Why hill running is a game changer for marathoner

12 May, 2019 • by Admin

One of the simplest and most time-efficient ways to improve your running is by including a regular hill session in your training.

Simply put, most runners don't understand how to train on hills. We pick hills that are too long or too steep. We run them too fast. We allow too little time afterward to recover. The result is a poor training effect at best, injury and burnout at worst. Before we charge willy-nilly up the nearest mountain trail, we need to understand the training adaptations we're after and the best way to achieve them.

Benefits of hill running

Some runners don't like hill running because it's, well, hard. But running hills provides a lot of benefits to runners, so don't shy away from them. Here are some of the ways you can benefit from hill running:

  • Building Strength: changing inclines build up the muscles in your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • Building Speed: the muscles you'll use to run up hills are the same ones used for sprinting, so the strength you build will improve your speed.
  • Adding Intensity: going uphill will increase your heart rate, respiration, and probably your perspiration.
  • Boredom Busting: sooner or later you're getting bored of running on a completely flat course.
  • Reducing Injuries: you will have trained your muscles to perform at different levels of incline.
  • Strengthening the Upper Body: uphill running forces you to drive your arms harder than you do when running on flat ground.

Running uphill technique

Most runners’ natural reaction when they start running up a hill is to lean into it, usually by bending forward at the waist. While it is true that some degree of forward lean is necessary when running up a hill, a lot of people lean much too far forward. This negatively impacts your uphill running ability in several ways

  • Relax every bit of your body, if you’re grunting and frowning you’ll waste energy, keep the pace controlled and steady
  • Walk if you like, power strongly up the hill, with your bum tucked under, using your glutes
  • Shorten your stride so you’re doing small steps
  • Drop the pace, think about maintaining “effort” rather than “speed”, you need to run up hills efficiently, not fast
  • Lead with your knee, driving it up and forwards
  • Use your arms more strongly, especially if you’re working a hill hard. Drive your elbows backwards swinging from your shoulder and use the momentum to help power you up the hill
  • Don’t look at your feet. Look up toward the top
  • Forget your GPS. Be guided by effort not pace
  • Avoid running excessively on the balls of your feet; it places a strain on your calves. Aim for a light step which may be more “midfoot” than normal, but don’t force it
  • Use the image of a balloon on the top of your head, lifting you and pulling you up the hill
  • Focus. Give it your best attention and concentrate on all the points above
  • Your technique and approach will differ depending on the gradient and length of the hill, so adjust your strategy. Master the tips for tackling hills, and you will run with better form on the flat too.

Running downhill technique

When it comes to running downhill, the problem is usually the opposite of running uphill: too much backward lean. Shifting your weight backwards when running downhill is a normal reaction, since it slows you down. Much like the incline of an uphill shifts your footstrike forward, a downhill forces your foot to strike the ground more towards your heel.

  • Allow your arms to swing out wide for balance
  • Use the momentum of the hill, don’t fight it
  • Avoid “braking”. Just let the hill take you and go with the flow
  • Allow your stride length to naturally increase
  • Look up and ahead – focus on a spot about five metres in front of you, not the ground under your nose
  • Bring your leg up behind you and allow your knee to bend and heel to lift – so you adopt a fluid cycling action
  • Try to relax and run with confidence
  • Keep your footstrike light and quick
  • To run downhill well, you need a strong core – your deep abdominal muscles need to be working well. If you find running downhill hard, it may be that your core isn’t activating as it should be. Try some pilates or see a personal trainer for some deep core activation exercises


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