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A lot of athletes incorporate hill running into their training. You see it on videos and short clips of various athletes in various sports. On the other hand, many elites also swear by running long on flat surfaces. Now the question that most beginners want to ask is which is better for training and fat loss?
The short answer is that both running on hills and flat surfaces offer benefits that are equally important in training. Running on hills burns more calories per minute than running on a flat surface. However, you are less likely to run longer on hills than flats, therefore, reducing the total amount of calories burned throughout your exercise duration.
Ahead, we will discuss more about the advantages of running hills versus flat surfaces in greater detail. In addition, I will give you a more detailed answer regarding which is better for training and which is better for fat loss.
Advantages of Hill Running
A lot of running coaches prescribe hill running once a week or once every two weeks because hill running has a lot of unique benefits for professional and beginner runners alike.
Among those are:
- Strengthens larger muscle groups (glutes and hamstrings for uphill, quads and abs for downhill)
- Increases pain tolerance
- A great way to increase the intensity
- Improves muscle endurance
- Burns more calories
- Adds variety to the training program
- Decrease the impact on your joints (uphill)
A few ways hill running can be incorporated into your training program is by doing hill repeats or adding routes with inclines and declines into your regular run.
Hill running will also give you advantages on long-distance races. Some marathon or ultramarathon routes have inclines, therefore, if you’ve included hill running into your training, this will give you an advantage over those who’ve only practiced running on flat surfaces.
For those of you who are concerned about losing weight but don’t have the luxury of time to run for a long duration, hill running burns more calories per minute compared to running on flat surfaces. How much more calories? About 3 to 5 more calories every minute depending on the degrees of incline.
Hill running is also a great way to do strengthening exercises. Because you’re running against resistance (gravity), running uphill builds your muscles particularly in your glutes, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius while running downhill strengthens your quads and abs.
This makes running on hills a great way to tone your muscles and give your body a little more sculpting.
If you want to know more about hill running and how to get better at it, I made a whole article regarding that topic. Be sure to check it out after this article.
Advantages Of Running On Flat Surfaces
We’ve discussed a lot of the advantages of running on hills, however, that doesn’t mean that running on flat surfaces has fewer advantages.
Some of the advantages of running on flat surfaces include:
- It’s way easier than running on hills making it better for beginners
- Good for training proper running form
- Allows you to train longer and more often
- Long low-intensity running utilizes fat as an energy source
- Allows you to train speed
- Allows you to focus more on endurance
For most runners, running on flat surfaces should compose 90 to 95% of your weekly mileage. Trail runners (particularly those who run on mountains), or those training for a competition whose routes include long uphills and downhills can increase add more hill runs on their weekly mileage.
Running on flat surfaces is way easier than running on hills. That said, every beginner should start running on flat surfaces before tackling the hills.
Running on flat surfaces allows you to train with lower intensity and focus on your form. In addition, you have more control over the intensity of your runs like slowing down or speeding up based on your program. That said, it gives you more types of runs to play around with during training.
Aerobic capacity training is also more achievable on flat surfaces. Aerobic capacity is fundamental for every runner. It allows you to utilize the amount of oxygen your body can use and improve your overall endurance. In other words, it trains you to run longer without running out of breath. This is done by running low intensity for a longer duration of time.
A method a lot of runners use is the Maffetone method in which you will maintain a certain heart rate (180 – your age) and maintain it for at least 30 mins. Because you’re supposed to refrain from going over your target heart rate (which is a lot harder to do when running uphill), running on flat surfaces is the way to go.
Another great thing about training on flat surfaces is that it takes less energy, therefore, allows you to train longer making it ideal for those who are training for endurance events.
Depending on the intensity of your run, it also hurt less compared to running uphill. Running uphill can give you muscle soreness which could inhibit you from running again on the following days.
Which Is A Better Form Of Training?
Running on hills and flat surfaces plays a different but equally important role in your training.
The former focuses more on strength building while the latter focuses more on endurance. However, this doesn’t mean that you should spend equal amounts of time running on both surfaces.
Running on flat surfaces should compose most of your weekly mileage because running is an endurance sport, therefore, you should train endurance more than strength.
Furthermore, there are other strengthening exercises that don’t involve running on hills. Some runners don’t even bother doing hill runs and still managed to do good in long-distance races.
There are lots of cross-training exercises you can do to improve as a runner. I made a list of them in another article.
For me, running hills once a week or twice a week seems to be what’s working best. I do a lot of trail running so it will be beneficial for me to train on hills often.
If you need a guide on how to vary your runs, I made a complete article that might help you. Be sure to check it out.
Which Is Better For Fat Loss?
Running on hills indeed burns more calories than running on flat surfaces. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean those calories come from fats.
Fat burning is easily achieved when you’re running at low intensity for a longer period. Therefore, fat burn is easier to achieve when running on flat surfaces because it allows you to run longer and maintain a lower intensity.
Furthermore, because running on hills is high-intensity and is much harder than running on flat surfaces, you are less likely to train longer and often. This results in fewer total calories burned in a week compared to running longer and often at a lower intensity.
Because of this, if you are trying to lose fat, I recommend that you run often on flat surfaces.
Both surfaces have an important role for every runner. Running on hills builds more strength while running on flat surfaces builds more endurance.
Although running more on flat surfaces is recommended, adding hill runs once or twice a week can help boost your overall running performance.