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Running Hills: Hill Treadmill Workouts and Alternatives

This week, I’m talking about hill treadmill workouts for any distance! I live in Chicago, I have clients who live in Florida, and we don’t really have these things called “hills,” so I’ve had to learn how to do hill workouts on the treadmill! Join up with me for Running Coaches Corner!

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Thus far, we’ve discussed how beneficial hill workout can be for our running and actual hill workouts for every distance runner. This week, let’s talk about how to do hill workouts when you live in flat locales. Yes, I am talking treadmill, but not just! 

Not all of us are as lucky as I was early in my running career, which I spent in NYC (which has Central Park with Harlem Hill and Cat’s Hill, not to mention Riverside Park (they call it Morningside Heights for a reason, you guys) and Charlottesville, Virginia (there a street called Ridge Street. It is named thus for a reason). Instead, many of us live in flat areas where (if we are lucky) we might have a bridge or manufactured sledding hill to run for our hill workouts. Unfortunately, those types of hills are rarely the correct incline or length for our needs. 

What is the solution to doing hill workouts in flat places? Well, let’s start off with the most obvious answer, the treadmill. First, let’s discuss running hills on treadmills and then alternatives to hill treadmill workouts.

Doing Hill Treadmill Workouts

How do you do hill if you live in a flat area? Hill Treadmill Workouts: benefits of running hills on the treadmill, tips for getting the most out of your treadmill workouts and alternatives if the treadmill isn't an option. http://suzlyfe.com/hill-treadmill-workouts-distance-running-coaches-corner-23/

Benefits of Hill Treadmill Workouts

To put it bluntly: treadmills allow you to create your workout. Need to run x m/mi hills at y% incline? Boom, there you go. Simple as that. You can track your time, pace, and improvements easily, and you can even program the thing with your workout. 

Controlled, consistent environment offers you an excellent chance for success. It is likely that you will be confronting the same conditions time and again, so you know what to expect, and you can avoid unfavorable conditions as well (hello, hot wet race weekend). 

Running inside is better for personal safety because you aren’t going to be out there with the crazies coming over a hill to find a runner coming up the hill at them. (Running hills outside is honestly one of the few times that I will run with the traffic simply so that they can see me, rather than getting surprised by me). 

You can get caught up on Netflix and your reading. (but don’t do the reading thing unless you are experienced. I am a master).

Netflix and Treadmill tshirt. A favorite from Sarah Marie Design Studio! Get tips on running hills on treadmills at Suzlyfe.com

From Sarah Marie Design Studio

Cons of Hill Treadmill Workouts

Treadmills tend to encourage bad form habits and discourage glute engagement. For those of us with a history of poor glute activation, this can be a recipe for disaster. 

Conditions indoors do not equate to conditions outdoors, no matter how hard you try. Wind, humidity, sun, shade, rain, snow… we all need to grin and bear it sometimes! 

Most treadmills do not have the capacity to do declines as well as inclines, and declines are just as important for your training! Psst. that means that you should be using the downhills as much as the uphills during your training!

There is just something about staring up at a hill that scares you and learning that you can do it. 

If the treadmill isn’t maintained correctly, you are going to be cheating yourself somehow (too fast, too slow, off balance, no cushion, etc).

Tips for Running Hill Treadmill Workouts

Go by rate of perceive exertion, not necessarily by pace and speed. Take note of the first pace that you use and try to return to that in your simultaneous repeats (unless otherwise planned), and remember–you want to be at or better than that pace for the entirety of your workouts! So don’t pick one that burns you out after a few. 

Don’t go all the way back down to 0% incline–it may feel downhill, and with regards to workload, it might be similar, but going from incline to flat is like stripping the resistance all the way to nothing on the bike. You want to maintain some resistance in order to protect your joints. I recommend 1-1.5% incline as your baseline.

Remember to include time for the transitions in speed and incline! Don’t you be cheating…

Watching you Meme

Focus on glute engagement above everything else. Well, you know what I mean. Inclines typically engage your glutes regardless, but here is the time to really focus on learning what that feels like so that you can incorporate glute engagement into your other runs. Furthermore, running on the treadmill typically encourages reliance on hamstrings, and trust me, running hills using only your hamstrings is asking for injury.

Focus on hill running form. Form form form form. Otherwise, what is the point? Plus, injury. 

You now know the pros and cons of hill treadmill workouts, as well as what to keep in mind when you are running them. So go and incorporate them to those hill workouts that I gave you last week! Inclines are included, so you should be good to go!

Finally! How to get in hill workouts when you live in flat areas! #running #runchat #sweatpink Click To Tweet

But what if you don’t want to do your hills on the treadmill? What can you do instead?

Non Treadmill Hill Running for Flat Places

Bridges are a great alternative for running hills on the treadmill. Break the bored of hill treadmill workouts on suzlyfe.com! Seasons Pell Bridge Run Jamestown Newport RI

Overpasses and Bridges

This is probably your best option because bridges typically have at least some length and some incline to offer you as well as the benefit of offering real life conditions for you to experience and deal with. Be really careful, though! Make sure that you are wearing highly visible clothing (BRIGHT colors and reflective pieces).

Parking Garage Ramps

Another great option that does a pretty good job of mimicking a real hill (though short). Again, be very cautious! Also, try to pick open air garages for fresh air. 

Stairs

Another way to werk dat booteh. I like stairs because they are generally everywhere (most cities and small towns have at least a building that gets up to 5 stories, which can at least give you shorter hill repeats. Furthermore, going down stairs is GREAT for your calves and ankles with all of the eccentric activity achieved as you lower down onto each step. One big con, though, is that you are going to be going the same direction as you turn over and over again, so try to find multiple stairwells (sometimes, you can find mirrored stairwells on opposite ends of the building) so that you can go both directions during the workout and try to prevent injury. Also, be careful of air quality!

Ellipticals with Variable Incline

Not my favorite option, but at least you can play with the incline and resistance. Make sure to pump your arms as if you are running (don’t hang on those handles!). I would suggest running by effort, time, and also cadence–try to be as close to your natural running cadence as possible (generally 160-180 steps/minute). The distance and speed on ellipticals aren’t that equivalent to real life. 

Spinning

Holy glutes, batman! Resistance = your incline. This is a great way to get those glutes to engage, but I have found that it is very difficult to maintain the right cadence when out of the saddle on a spin bike. In this case, I would again suggest that you go by effort, time, and cadence (knowing that it will be less than your running cadence, but still try to keep at 65+ RPM).

Stepmills

Stepmills give you another going up option (pretty much any machine is only going to offer you ways to go up). My advice when it comes to using stepmills is that you get off the stepmill in between your hill intervals (if you can find a treadmill or track to run around as your recovery, that is best). Otherwise, you are pretty much just going up the entire time.

So glad @suzlyfe provided these alternatives to the dreadmill for doing hills! #running #fitfluential Click To Tweet

There you have it! I hope that all of my fellow flat-terrain friends feel like this gives them some options for getting in hill workouts regardless. Now you have no excuse, so get out (or in) there and get to training! 

How do you handle running hills if you live in a flat area?

And now it is time to link up with Rachel, Lora, and Debbie for Running Coaches Corner! I am also linking up with Patty, Erika, and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run, Nicole, Annmarie, Michelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday, and Ilka and Angela for Food and Fitness Sunday.

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74 Comments

  • Reply Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy

    Omg, that hill over the bridge looks killer. What a nightmare, I think I would give give up at that point haha.

    July 27, 2016 at 5:46 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      what if it was the start, lol

      July 27, 2016 at 7:46 pm
  • Reply Michelle

    It is all about form regardless of what kind of hill you’re running! These are some great options for runners to get in their hill work–no excuses now!

    July 27, 2016 at 6:07 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      tell that to my clients 😀

      July 27, 2016 at 7:45 pm
  • Reply Sarah @ BucketListTummy

    There are SO many hills in my neighborhood. I go down them to start my run, but ending my run always means a big hill to get home. Good and bad I guess 🙂

    July 27, 2016 at 6:08 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Talk about mental training!

      July 27, 2016 at 7:44 pm
  • Reply Annmarie

    Luckily I have hills galore where I live but these are really great tips!!! Definitely need to mimic the terrain as much as possible!

    July 27, 2016 at 6:11 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I would be killed by your terrain!

      July 27, 2016 at 7:44 pm
  • Reply Kimberly Hatting

    Although I have a treadmill, I seldom use it…and I have never used it for hill-training. Just. Cannot. Do. It. But, I have a trusty stairway that gets a lot of traffic…singles, (mostly) doubles, and periodic triples. Fast, slow, and (sometimes) with hand weights. It drives my dog crazy LOL

    July 27, 2016 at 6:14 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Dang girl–you a beast!

      July 27, 2016 at 3:23 pm
  • Reply Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious

    I’m not sure it’s safer to run inside my dear! I’ve seen people knock themselves out on treadmills. It was so hard not to laugh.

    July 27, 2016 at 6:19 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I agree–treadmilling is a full contact sport!

      July 27, 2016 at 3:22 pm
  • Reply Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner

    I am glad that you mentioned how running on the treadmill is harder to engage your glutes. That is definitely an issue for me and I know I don’t run naturally on the treadmill. I certainly feel my glutes on the spin bike and the elliptical. Thanks for the linkup

    July 27, 2016 at 6:35 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Thank you for joining! I do the butt clench to get those glutes working

      July 27, 2016 at 3:22 pm
  • Reply Lauren

    I have been doing your parking garage tip near where I work—great tips!

    July 27, 2016 at 6:48 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I love that tip–it works so well!

      July 27, 2016 at 3:20 pm
  • Reply Emily @ My Healthyish Life

    Yes, what are these things called hills? Overpasses and bridges are the ways to go to FL! And treadmill, obviously 😉

    July 27, 2016 at 6:52 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Especially with the heat that you all deal with!

      July 27, 2016 at 2:54 pm
  • Reply Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home

    I could have used this info last winter when I was training for Big Sur! But my coach got all creative on me and made me pull a weighted sled. During the race, I kept hearing her voice saying “drive, drive” as we chugged up those hills!

    July 27, 2016 at 7:31 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I definitely thought about adding in the weighted sled, but thought I might add that next week for creative ways to torture yourself, lol

      July 27, 2016 at 2:57 pm
  • Reply Laura @ This Runner's Recipes

    Great suggestions! Treadmill is better than nothing for hills, but you can’t beat outside! I think getting in the downhill is so beneficial, otherwise on race day quads will burn!

    July 27, 2016 at 7:46 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Definitely to all. I am trying myself to come up with good alternatives for doing downhills if you don’t have them!

      July 27, 2016 at 3:00 pm
  • Reply Julie @ Running in a Skirt

    What great tips! Those bridges can be great hill subs! I remember hitting an on ramp in mile 11 of the Disney Princess Half Marathon and thought FELT like a damn mountain!! haha

    July 27, 2016 at 7:48 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Hahahahaha like Mount Roosevelt in the Chicago Marathon!

      July 27, 2016 at 3:00 pm
  • Reply Ellen @ My Uncommon Everyday

    I promise I read the rest of the post, too, but how on Earth do you read on the treadmill?

    July 27, 2016 at 7:50 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Kindle. I worked my way up from magazines to books and now kindle makes it sooooo easy.

      July 27, 2016 at 3:01 pm
  • Reply Suzy

    Ohhhh I had no idea Chicago was flat! Interesting! I love that Netflix and Treadmill shirt. And I LOOOOVE Monsters Inc. One of my top five favourite movies.

    July 27, 2016 at 8:14 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      OMG so flat. Like, bridges = hills.

      July 27, 2016 at 3:01 pm
  • Reply Jen @ Pretty Little Grub

    I like to take my hills to the treadmill sometimes because I can push myself but you’re right, it’s nothing like the accomplishment of seeing a hill and tackling it.

    July 27, 2016 at 8:33 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It really does make all the difference when it comes to a race!

      July 27, 2016 at 3:02 pm
  • Reply Janelle @ Run With No Regrets

    Great tips! I do forget that the downhills are just as important as the uphills! We have the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philly and that provides a great workout!

    July 27, 2016 at 9:02 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      downhills are so crucial! And I’ve been the person going back and forth across bridges before lol

      July 27, 2016 at 3:02 pm
  • Reply Nicole @ Fitful Focus

    I’ve got my hill workout tomorrow! Hoping it’s not dreadfully hot so that I can do it outside. Hills on the treadmill SUCK! haha – Also… want that Netflix and Treadmill shirt!

    July 27, 2016 at 10:14 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I hope you can! Plus, NYC has some mad hills that are perfection for you 😀

      July 27, 2016 at 3:04 pm
  • Reply Running Log Week July 18th - Running through heat

    […] SUSIE, Rachel and Debbie for The Coaches’ Corner […]

    July 27, 2016 at 10:22 am
  • Reply Ilka

    Just like you Susie I started running in NYC and I thought it offered the most perfect terrain for runners, especially Central Park. Perfect amount incline, routes and environment. I even loved the convenience of having a vendor on every corner in the park for fluids. It really helps especially in the Summer! Moving the Florida changed my running. I barely get any hills, unless I use a bridges or overpasses like you mentioned. Most of my hill workouts are therefore on the treadmill.
    But hey – I get palm trees in return! 🙂
    Great post as usual. Pinning and stumbling – love it! 🙂

    July 27, 2016 at 10:29 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Goodness, we were SO spoiled by NYC, weren’t we?? I’m spoiled here with the same access to the water and bathrooms, but definitely not the hills. Yes, you definitely get palm trees! But not my beloved cherry blossoms 😀

      July 27, 2016 at 3:05 pm
  • Reply Eric

    Definitely prefer treadmill hills myself. I don’t know anywhere near me that’s going to have a 7% hill, and it’s easy to just knock out after a long day at work at any time of day without worrying about safety (getting run over, etc.). Downhills are definitely a HUGE thing lacking, I can say I was greatly missing this, and still feel like I need to seek it out. I did find that the street next to my apt building has a decent hill on it, so I run back and for (2 miles) on a trail near my apt, then run downhill in a loop around my apt, and return to the trails for my downhill training. Hopefully that will improve it, I’m also pushing my uphills on the mill for longer. My next marathon will not have any uphills though, only a few downhills so it’s a moot point, but I like to improve. After that though is a Half Marathon through the area around Heartbreak hill that is quite hilly though!

    July 27, 2016 at 10:37 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Hey, doing the hills will help you regardless! They are always beneficial, but yeah you will need them for that other race! Downhills are so elusive, but so necessary.

      July 27, 2016 at 3:15 pm
  • Reply Karyl Henry

    Great post! I run on the treadmill when the weather doesn’t cooperate, or when I need to do that early AM workout before the sun rises. But luckily I live near a neighborhood that has some brutal hills, so I run those as much as possible when training for half marathons. My friends think I”m nuts, but it makes such a huge difference. And when I do treadmill inclines I alternate between sprints and hills–and sometimes together. I hate it when I’m doing it, but feel so much better afterwards

    July 27, 2016 at 11:56 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Don’t all of our friends think that we are crazy? I think that they are justified lol

      July 27, 2016 at 3:17 pm
  • Reply Alyssa

    Love running stairs and spinning! Such a good glute workout and always has my legs feeling like jello. That netflix and treadmill shirt is awesome haha. Thanks for the tips on running hills on the treadmill- definitely helpful!

    July 27, 2016 at 12:43 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Love me some spin! And anything to help us make it through the less enjoyable moments of training!

      July 27, 2016 at 3:19 pm
  • Reply Beverley @ Born to Sweat

    i need to use the treadmill to run hills more often – usually i use it only for sprint intervals (at a 0% incline ha!). Your pros and cons are great – glute activation is a serious problem

    July 27, 2016 at 12:56 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Put that treadmill on a little incline for your sprints–you’ll get even more from them!

      July 27, 2016 at 3:18 pm
  • Reply Rachel

    OMG we have some wicked steep sledding hills. I was going to take my son there for some hill repeats a couple weeks ago and when we got there I was all like, “uhhhh… no.” Lol! Luckily where I live is anything but flat so hills are a daily rite of passage for me. 😉

    July 27, 2016 at 6:46 pm
  • Reply Kathryn @ Dancing to Running

    I’m all about the hill training, even if I’m training for a race with a flat course. Hill training definitely helps make any runner faster.

    July 27, 2016 at 6:47 pm
  • Reply lacey@fairytalesandfitness

    I live in Va Beach so of course not alot of hills here. Sometimes I will run in First Landing St park and do the trails. There a few inclines. Never done parking garage ramps. That’s a great idea. Only if it’s not busy that is.

    July 27, 2016 at 11:05 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Yeah, definitely be careful there!

      July 28, 2016 at 2:30 pm
  • Reply Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs

    Not a fan of treadmills, or any indoors option. Not crazy about stairs or stepmills because of my knee. Fortunately I can stop whining because I have plenty of hills near me. 🙂

    July 28, 2016 at 1:26 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Hahaha but you do also have to deal with the heat.

      July 28, 2016 at 2:29 pm
  • Reply neil@neilshealthymeals.com

    I NEED to know how to read on a treadmill. You know that’s where I do my running 3 times a week and I’ve got my iPod for music and motivational podcasts, but you mention reading. How do you read on a treadmill? I’m being serious here, is there a knack or do you have a special book / app. Use your tablet? What? Thanks! 😀

    July 28, 2016 at 2:12 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Kindle is the best. I started back in the day with magazines, and that was good because you don’t really have to be totally dialed in. And they stay pretty well. Book-books are much harder. But Kindle/tablet is the way to go–you can even adjust the print. And then you just practice!

      July 28, 2016 at 2:27 pm
  • Reply Toni

    Great post! I live in Florida now and def struggle to find hills. I either have to drive an hour north or use an overpass. I use an overpass. I’m not a fan of the treadmill and a running coach once told me hills is more about the decline so unless you have decline on your treadmill it’s not the best option, plus I hate the treadmill. I do think it is a necessary evil sometimes though.

    July 28, 2016 at 7:21 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Hills are about both, but yes, what goes up must also come down! At least, usually.

      July 28, 2016 at 2:23 pm
  • Reply lindsay Cotter

    i only use stepmill. I get vertigo on treadmill. I wonder if elliptical between would stil be good, yes?

    July 28, 2016 at 7:52 am
  • Reply Ange // Cowgirl Runs

    Aww man, I wanna run with you! 🙁
    I also totally need that shirt! Awesome.

    July 28, 2016 at 9:49 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I wish you could run with me. But you can get the shirt.

      July 28, 2016 at 2:17 pm
  • Reply Kristy from Southern In Law

    Real hills definitely feel SO much different than treadmill hills, haha! I used to only run on the treadmill as I was scared of falling, however, when I started heading out on real runs in our ridiculously hilly suburb…. holyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy moly did I hurt the next few days afterwards 😛

    July 28, 2016 at 7:06 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Haha, you were cheating, but you were really cheating yourself!

      August 2, 2016 at 2:36 pm
  • Reply Hannah

    Treadmills give me vertigo, but fortunately I have much better options for hills anyway 😉

    July 28, 2016 at 8:14 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      UM, yeah, you definitely have the best options!

      August 2, 2016 at 2:35 pm
  • Reply Heather @ FITaspire

    I love the treadmill for hill simulation – although I do recommend 0% to simulate flats (unless you are running faster than a 7 mm, recent studies have shown it’s equivolent). I need one of those models that do a decline — the downhill is the best part!! 🙂

    July 29, 2016 at 10:02 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Good to know. Definitely something for me to look into.

      August 2, 2016 at 2:16 pm
  • Reply Emily Weir

    I definitely could have used this earlier this year! I was struggling to train in Florida for a trail run in the hills/mountains of Georgia and was completely unprepared. I’ll keep it in mind for the future though!

    July 29, 2016 at 6:39 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Ooo, yeah, you definitely could have used some of these tips! But if you could make it through that… how was the race?

      August 2, 2016 at 1:55 pm
      • Reply Emily Weir

        Definitely tough. A lot more walking uphill than I would have liked, but I survived. It was a Ragnar relay and there’s only so much you can do to prepare for running 4 times in 24 hours!

        August 3, 2016 at 11:39 am
        • Reply suzlyfe

          Haha so true! I found that eating cheese balls helps 😀

          August 5, 2016 at 4:56 pm
  • Reply Patty @ Reach Your Peak

    Great tips! Spin has really helped me with hill climbing in running too. But I also struggle with standing hill climbs. Love the parking deck idea – definitely one I forgot/others might not think of!

    July 30, 2016 at 12:09 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Just make sure that it isn’t a busy one!

      August 2, 2016 at 1:51 pm
  • Reply Linda @ Veganosity

    You need to come to my neck of the woods and run the ramps up the ravines. I’m so happy to be able to run hills outside because the treadmill is not nice to my knees. Thanks for the great tips!

    August 1, 2016 at 5:04 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I’m so happy that you have those. Ravines make me think of being in Virginia!

      August 2, 2016 at 11:40 am
  • Reply MCM Mama Runs

    Every run I do is a hill workout LOL. It’s just a question of whether I have the hills that I can’t avoid or if I actively search out more hills. This is good though because my body does not like hill workouts on the treadmill.

    August 4, 2016 at 10:17 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Yeah, hill workouts on the treadmill can be hard on your body, but they are also necessary. but evil

      August 5, 2016 at 4:17 pm

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