Five Training Repetition Tips

I’m sure most of our readers, like me, you juggle a job, maybe a family too and training can be severely limited at times to some very obscure times of the day.ย  However it’s not just time that limits us, location does too and we can often find ourselves going to the same places time and time again, because quite simply, time and specificity demand that we have to. While we congratulate the front-runners in our little community, we’re fully aware of the efforts that the rest of us have to go through to even get ourselves ready and on the start line for races. I’m one of them – I get it.

Thus, the idea for this little selection of tips came to me as I was about to embark upon some hill reps near where I live in Sydney at 10pm at night. This specificย  hill is about as good as it gets for me and I was over it. I’ve done thousands of reps on this hill. If you know Sydney at all, it’s pretty flat and not conducive to training for some of our big ‘hilly’ ultras. Over the coming months, I’ve committed to racing some nice big mountain races in both Australia and New Zealand, because quite simply, that’s where my heart lies. But Sydney rather lacks mountains terrain. I need to create my own.

None of these in Sydney - we have to create our own mountains
None of these in Sydney – we have to create our own mountains

This ‘hill’ near to where I live is around 100m in length, but contains around 22m of rise, thus giving it a nice gradient of 22%. Which is great, but as you can probably work out, to get any serious amount of climbing from it, I need to do multiple reps and create my own mountain. Now unless you’re devoid of any brain matter and monotony passes you by like a candle in the wind, it’s mentally very hard to keep pushing up and down the same hill, anywhere up to fifty times – which is my current PB on this hill.

So as I got out of the car on what was a blustery, yet mild evening and embarked upon my reps, I began to consider in what ways I could vary the repetition or in some way play tricks with my mind to get me through the session, and herein is my top five tips to training repetition.

1.) Stay in the present

This is the first and most obvious one, but is often the hardest one to master. While there’s the physical effort required to perform your repeats, doing multiple efforts is actually a rather good test of mental strength too. Mental prowess is essential for running an ultra, so to is the ability to break down a race into segments so as to not be overcome with the magnitude of what you’re doing. The same goes for smashing out fifty hill reps. A good trick I employ is to focus 100% of my energy on the rep I’m doing up the hill. Running a 22% gradient requires effort and focus, with the top of it as a goal. The reward is the downhill after, where the mind can abstain from the effort for 30-40 seconds, before the effort begins again. By focusing on the here and now, I forget about the fact that there’s another 49 reps to complete. All I’m concerned about is my effort and subsequent reward for that rep.

2.) Grouping

The trick to repetition is to break the repetition
The trick to repetition is to break the repetition

That’s all very nice and well Dan, but seriously, how can you not focus on the fact that there’s another 49 reps?’

This is true. While I do everything in my power to focus on the rep in hand, it’s very difficult not to think about what I have to do – the mind wanders to what’s next. It’s human nature to think about the future. People do it in their everyday lives, particularly in the work place when they proclaim on a Tuesday that they can’t wait for the weekend. It often amazes me how people wish their lives away for just two days of the week.

So if you find your mind wandering, then you can group you reps together. By that I mean the following, in that mentally it’s far easier to run 10 sets of 5 reps than 50 straight reps. You can go one stage further and decide that for four of those reps, you’re going to run them, while the fifth you’ll walk. Before you know it you’ve run two reps and you’re halfway through your ‘running reps’ until you reach the fifth and you can power walk. Then it’s time to start all over again. The takeaway here is that 10 is less than 50, in that doing 10 sets seems far more plausible mentally than doing a straight 50 reps.

3.) Mix it up

Similar to the above in that the trick to mastering repetition is to break the repetition. Sure… you’re going up and down the same hill or set of stairs, but if you wish make the mental battle a little easier on yourself, mixing things up takes the focus away from the number and onto the actual doing – it’s a form of mental trickery or deception.

For example, I have a set of stairs just North of Sydney where I work that are highly repetitive and uniform. Instead of performing the same action I’ll alternate how I climb them with 3 or 4 variants. That could be run one at a time for the first rep, walk two at a time for the second rep followed by running two at a time for the third rep.

Alternatively, I might do five reps of the stairs before jogging up the road for 2-3 minutes and then head back down, again to break the monotony. There are many different ways to distract yourself, you’ve just got to come up with any number of variations that will ultimately help you in your training.

Focus on a time goal rather than a number of reps
Focus on a time goal rather than a number of reps

4.) Time, not numbers

One of the dangers we let ourselves fall into is counting numbers of reps. Why not measure your session in terms of time? So instead of going out and running 30 reps of the hill, I place a time limit on my session of say, 40 minutes, which is a pretty short session.

5.) Become a masochist!

There have been times where I take great pleasure in seeing how much boredom I can take to the point that the number of reps I do becomes a challenge of stupidity. Having a PB is another great way of building the motivation to keep heading out and doing the same hill rep or stairs time and time again. You have to remember that the type of training ultra runners do is not normal human behaviour. I have had some pretty strange glances from people as I continue to go up and down the hill multiple times. There’s even more incredulousness when you tell them it’s your 37th rep. It then becomes a challenge to yourself to see how many you can knock over – to see what realms of stupidity you’re prepared to take yourself too – I think they call this OCD ๐Ÿ™‚

We hope you enjoyed our little selection of training repetition tips – what tips do you have for breaking the monotony?

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

4 thoughts on “Five Training Repetition Tips

  1. You kept mentioning my ideas so nothing to ad on reps but how about a treadmill session? I’ve only done it 2-3 times but 90 minutes averaging 10% @ 9.6K/hr (seemed to be about the right effort level). Same as your reps I mix it up. So various increments of 5, 10 & 15%.
    Your hill sounds very similar to my steepest available which is exciting cause where I live is far flatter than Sydney ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I like rocks !!! I use them to tally my hill reps as I seem to loose count after about 3. So on the way up I’ll try to spot a nice rock on the rd in the lower section of the hill. Then on the way back down I’ll try and spot that same rock and pick it up, can be a challenge in itself just to find the same rock.
    Then I just make my little rock pile in the gutter at the bottom of the hill to keep tally. Sticks work too and are easier to grab.
    Ah the stupid stuff we do chasing hill time.
    Weirdly my rock piles are always gone the next time I do the same hill ??

  3. Coincidentally the day before I read this I started doing hill reps on the steepest nearby hill with Alpine Challenge and future mountain ultras in mind.
    It’s a nice 2km warm up jog away. 800m in length and tho I’m not sure of the gradient it takes me nearly 8 mins jog up and 4 down.
    This piece will serve me well in the future as it becomes a go to for hill reps. With the fast approaching fire season it’s important on bad days that I not be too far from home…
    Like Nathan when training on an amazing set of stairs on the coast of Spain last year I too gathered rocks as my counters cos when I get tired my math goes to poo ๐Ÿ˜€

    Staying in the now is difficult anytime…and all those methods are great, I’ve employed every one!

    I also intend to have a 8kg pack at the bottom and don that at times when the jog becomes a power hike. Do a couple of reps and take it off and hopefully feel light enough to run again ๐Ÿ˜€

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