Take Your Cardio to The Next Level: Start Running Hills

Isaiah McCall


didn’t feel like running today. It was raining out and my left ankle has been acting up ever since my 20-miler. After finishing my morning strength workout, the excuses started mounting to skip cardio.

“I do plenty,” I thought to myself. “Let’s run another day, you know, when you’re more up to it.” Anytime I get these thoughts — I run hills.

I drove over six or seven blocks to Standish Ave., a street with a hill the size of a Six-Flags coaster. By the start of the workout, I tell myself there’s no way I’m going through with this. By the end, I’m Rocky Balboa ready to go the distance with Apollo Creed.

Remind your body who’s in charge, take your mental and cardio game to the next level, start running hills.

The Runner Who Avoids Hills

Planning a route is a meditative exercise for a runner. I usually drive through my routes and visualize how I’m going to feel at certain points. When I come upon a hill in the middle of a course, I stop the car and tell myself, “you’re going to have to dig deep here.”

As I get to that point during my run, I remember what I already told myself: “dig deep.” It’s the beauty of running hills, they’ll slow you down at first, but if you win the battle, there’s momentum waiting for you at the top.

Then there are the runners who plan around hills or what I call self-sabotage. Sure they might be able to dig deep, but compared to the hill runner, they aren’t worth their salt.


As an athlete involved in team sports my whole life, I never understood the mental game of exercise. It wasn’t until I began to exercise by myself that I understood it better:

What are you willing to do when no one else is looking? What will you put yourself through when there’s not a soul out there but you?

You’re the only one who’s going to know the beating you took on those hills. And because you took that unglamorous beating, when the real race begins, you’ll be ready.

Take Your Cardio to The Next Level

Hill runs don’t are just as beneficial for the physical as they are for the mental. Many top athletes have incorporated hill training into their program, so let’s detail out the benefits:

  • Speed: Your quads are going to get stronger and make running on flatter surfaces easier.
  • Strength: Since hill runs are a form of resistance training, you’ll build muscle in your quads, calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes. You’ll be able to run with more force and power.
  • Endurance: The added intensity will increase your cardiovascular abilities. You might not achieve speeds you can reach on flat surfaces, but you’ll be breathing harder.
  • Burn Calories: As runners, we’re all probably used to gorging our refrigerators and burning it off on the roads. But if you’re fighting to lose stubborn body fat, running hills will burn more calories in less time.
  • Injury Prevention: The holy grail of running. There’s less pressure on your heels running uphill; preventing injures like shin splints and strengthening overlooked muscles.

Tips to Get Started:

Go find a moderate-sized hill about 100 meters long. If you don’t have a hill find a parking garage with ramps or a Rock Balboa-type staircase.

Take the first one easy — even if you have past hill experience — don’t be a hero. Consider this a “test-day,” try to do eight intense sprints up and take a slow jog down.

If you have to walk don’t be ashamed. Late last year when I started running hills I felt forced to walk on my seventh or eighth sprint. As I ran hills more the walks became nonexistent, even on days with bad weather.

I won’t lie to you, hills aren’t for everyone. Even today I was trying to talk myself out of it. But the mental and physical benefits from completing this feat is like nothing else. Hope I see you out there.

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USA Today Reporter and Ultramarathoner. I write about Cryptocurrency, Fitness Hacks, and Greek Philosophy. Also a diehard Trekkie | mccallisaiah@gmail.com

Jersey City, NJ

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