How to run hill reps mindfully

Hill reps are a great addition to your training to help build strength and endurance, as well as speed over shorter distances. Where can a mindful approach to our running help maximise the benefits of a hill rep session? It’s all about cultivating relaxation.

Hill reps

What is a hill rep?
As the name suggests, a hill rep training session involves running up an incline over a specified distance and intensity, then returning to the start of the climb and repeating. It’s a very adaptable form of training. You can choose gradients which are shallow or steep. We might run for just 30 seconds or five minutes or more. You can also work at different intensities such as sprinting the shorter reps and maintaining even efforts over longer distances.

A simple hill rep session to get you started
-> Find a hill with a gradient of 5 degrees or more.
-> Make sure you have warmed up including some dynamic stretching.
-> Choose a fixed starting point.
-> Determine your end point, either by choosing an approximate distance to run (e.g. up to 200m) or a landmark (a lampost, tree etc).
-> Run at a hard but sustainable effort to your end point, then turn around and jog back to the start as recovery.
-> As soon as you reach the start, turn around and repeat.
-> For your first session, aim to complete at least three repetitions.
-> Next time you go out (you might like to make this a weekly session) add one or two more repetitions. See if you can build to 10 or more over time.

Integrating mindfulness with your hill reps
The mindful approach to a hill rep session has to do with bringing intentionality and choice to our experience. At the point where the repetition begins to feel tough (you’ll know that place after you’ve done a few!) look out for the almost instinctive response to tense our back and shoulders. The key intention to establish from the start of each repetition is to relax. This can be a wide attention brought to relaxing the joints. When the effort of the rep begins to bite, we can focus that relaxation more closely on the shoulders and back. You may also find thoughts of resistance arising (‘this is too hard,’ ‘I hate this’ etc) or a kind of mental closing down/shutting out of our experience. This is where choice characterises a mindful approach, especially if we are meeting our experience with aversion. Rather than resistance and aversion characterising our response, we can choose to turn towards the apparent stress and meet it with an invitation to relax both our body and mind.

Instead of getting caught in a feedback loop of tension in the body, discouraging thought patterns and aversion towards the experience, we can choose with awareness to notice the tension in the body. We can the invite a sense of relaxation to those parts, recognise the thoughts but not follow after or indulge them and finally even bring an attitude of curiosity to unpleasant sensations in the body. If the last part feels too intense, then with awareness we can choose to shift our focus and attention from those burning thigh muscles to the sensation of contact and/or sound of our feet on the ground, step by step. Alternatively you might choose to “go big” and open up to your wider experience in the moment and engage with your senses of sight, sound, touch and smell, providing a bigger holding space for those unpleasant sensations. Finally, on your jog back before your next rep you can also bring a curious awareness to the difference in the body and mind, noting perhaps that the pleasant and unpleasant both come and go, and the difficulty we experience has a lot to do with our attitude and how we relate to those experiences, than the actual experiences themselves.

Mindfulness practice in all aspect of our lives helps us to more readily notice how the body and mind adapts to stress. Over time it can begin to open a space in which we become more skilled in choosing how to respond. With hill reps, not only are they a great way to build your running fitness, they also happen to offer short bursts of intensity that shine a light on the habits of body and mind.

Give it a go and tell us how you get on.