8 Ways to Train for Hills—Without Hills

By: Dr. Jeff Godin, Ph.D., CSCS, SGX

The other day I received an email asking me a simple question. The email went like this:

Dear Coach,

It seems like every Spartan race has huge hills or mountains. I live in an area that doesn’t have any significant hills. Is there anything I can do to train better for hills without a hill?


This is a great question, and I’m happy to answer it. (I will be answering other great questions like this one in other upcoming blogs.) It is tough to train for hills without hills. But here are a few suggestions.

1. Run any size hill.


No matter how small it may seem, run up and down it for 30 minutes to an hour. Sounds boring, right? It will also bump up your mental toughness and ability to remain focused while completing a tedious task. Be tenacious!

2. Run repeats over overpasses and bridges.

These aren’t nearly as long as any mountain you will encounter in a race, but if you do enough of them, you can accumulate the same elevation gain.

3. Use stairs.


Hit the mall—not to shop, but to climb stairs. Up and down until security asks you to leave.

4. Use the treadmill.

If you have a gym membership, jump on the treadmill. Set the grade at 10% and start walking.

5. Use resistance.


On any of the above, you can make the workout more challenging by carrying a rock or log or by wearing a weighted vest.

6. Train eccentrically.

When you run downhill, your muscles are contracting eccentrically, which means that they are producing force and lengthening at the same time in order to control speed. You can mimic this with squat jumps. Slowly descend into a squat position and then jump as high as possible. Use your legs to absorb the landing. Squatting and lunging with weights can also help in this area.

7. Build strong and resilient feet.


Running up and down a mountain with unpredictable terrain can destroy your feet if they aren’t mobile. Build mobility in the feet by rolling them with a lacrosse ball, and do exercises that stretch the back and front of the lower leg. You can also develop stronger proprioception in the foot with single-legged balance exercises and by walking around the house in bare feet.

Technical Terms: proprioception — the body’s sense of where each of its parts are at any given time, as well as its sense of how hard each part is working.

8. Take a road trip.

As you build up your training, take a road trip to the mountains.

Be Safe!

Be aware: hill running and walking is strenuous activity. It’s hard not just on the heart and the aerobic energy system, but on your muscles and joints. Start slowly, build-up slowly, and build time before intensity. One session per week to start will be enough, but as you get closer to the race you can add a second session. Climb on!

Even without hills, there are countless—OK, at least eight—options to build the skills you’ll need on treacherous Spartan terrain. Got another idea? Send me your flatlander hill training solution.

More helpful tips from Dr. Jeff Godin:

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