Kill Your Legs–Train for the Hills

Being from Florida, you would think that I’d be at a distinct disadvantage when I race in hilly or mountainous regions of the world. Yet, whenever I jump on my bike or head up or down the trail in these races, people from those regions are surprised with how well I can climb.

Now, most people think Florida is completely flat–and it is relative to Georgia or Tibet–but, there are areas in the central and panhandle sections of the state that at least have some hills. For me, hills are only an hour away. When I don’t have time to get there, I do stairs, bridge repeats (we have some goooooood bridges) or climb on the stepmill with a pack on my back.

But, a huge part of being prepared to persevere and excel in the hills is my strength training. For a race in the hills, I love to emphasize single leg movements like lunges and to eventually work in plyometrics. Here’s a great workout to help you the next time you are heading for higher elevations:

Side Step Ups: Stand next to a bench/chair. If the bench is on your right, step up with your left leg. Yes, your leg will cross in front of you as you step. Step down. Repeat. Start with no weights and 3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Eventually, you want this to become a “squat”–where the foot that is not on the bench merely “kisses” the floor before you step up again.

Overhead Lunges: Similar to your typical lunge, but instead of holding dumbbells at your side or a barbell on your shoulders, you are holding either (or the slosh pipe or sand bags!) over your head. This forces you to engage your core and pay attention to your balance. It’s similar to the connection you should feel from your pedals to your handlebars while cranking up a steep hill on your bike. Alternate legs within the set. Complete 3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions. If your form deteriorates, drop the weight.

Single Arm Squat Push–Find a bench or chair that will let you squat almost to where your thighs are parallel to the ground when your butt touches the top. Hold dumbbells, kettlebells or sand bags in each hand at your shoulders. Squat until you touch the top of the bench. As you come up press one of the weights up overhead. On the next squat rep, press the weight in the other hand. Using one arm at a time helps engage the core in an asymmetrical manner–similar to how it is used while trail running or mountain biking uphill. 3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

About 6 weeks to a month out from your event, I recommend adding in some plyometric exercises. These explosive movements can help train your muscles to deal with the dynamic environment you might encounter in the hills–both the uphill and the downhill, both on and off road.

To help with the downhills (which I think are the hardest thing to train for in a flatland state), I suggest box drops with an explosive jump. So, you start with a 12 inch box. Stand on top. Drop off the box into a squat and immediately spring up explosively. Eventually, work your way up to a higher box/bench/chair.

To help with explosive uphills (especially for running, but also helpful for cycling), I like the split jump on a box. Again, start low and work up. With one foot on the box (or step) and one on the floor, explosively press with the foot on the step and as you get air switch the foot on the step. Repeat immediately with no hesitation. The key is to emphasize the explosive work of the foot/leg on the step.

With the plyometric exercises, start small and focus on the proper execution and extreme explosiveness. So, for each exercise you may only want to do 3 sets of 5 repetitions. The idea is for each explosive movement to be of very high quality. Eventually, work up to 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions, but always stop when the explosiveness and quality of the movement fades.

Well, give these a go and, even if you aren’t headed for the hills or big mountains, they are still sure to add some strength to your legs.

~ by kipwkoelsch on April 16, 2009.

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