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12 Running Uphill Benefits: How It Makes You A Strong Runner

Our running coach discusses why hillwork is worth the effort.

Hill repeats are classic bread-and-butter workouts for distance runners and sprinters alike.

Running uphill benefits your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, making it an effective and efficient way to combine speed work and strength training into one workout.

Runners can reap unique benefits from running workouts that involve hill repeat sprints and long uphill climbs at an endurance training pace. For example, hill sprints develop strength, speed, and turnover, while longer hills develop strength, endurance, and mental toughness.

So, if you need some support to turn your dread of running hills into motivation and excitement, keep reading for a list of 12 running uphill benefits.

Running Uphill Benefits

12 Running Uphill Benefits

Running uphill has physical and mental benefits, and hill workouts can be one of the most effective components of your training program, particularly if you struggle on hills during your runs and races.

Here are some of the top benefits of hill running:

#1: Running Uphill Improves Your Cardiovascular Capacity

Running uphill strengthens your heart and lungs, boosting your cardiovascular fitness. If you take on long endurance uphill climbs, either up a long mountain run or on a treadmill set at a gradient, you can also boost your endurance by running uphill. 

The oxygen demand from your muscles is higher when you run uphill, so your heart rate naturally rises1Padulo, J., Powell, D., Milia, R., & Ardigò, L. P. (2013). A Paradigm of Uphill Running. PLoS ONE8(7), e69006. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0069006 and you have to breathe deeper and faster than when you run on flat ground. Therefore, hill workouts can strengthen your heart and lungs over time and increase your stroke and tidal volumes.

#2: Running Uphill Will Build Strength 

Most runners know that strength training is essential to our training, but sometimes, we lack the motivation to hit the gym for squats, lunges, and deadlifts.

Running uphill repetitions can almost be equated to strength training leg muscles in disguise. It builds strength and power in the glutes, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip flexors. Increases in leg strength from hill running can translate to a more powerful running stride.

Running Uphill Benefits

#3: Running Uphill Develops Core and Arm Strength

In addition to building leg strength, running uphill benefits your upper body and core. Proper uphill running form requires a strong arm drive. Also, to drive your knees up, you engage your core even more when running uphill than on a flat surface.

Runners don’t often consider the importance of strong arms, but your arm swing dictates the power and pace of your turnover, so be sure to pump those arms with power and conviction.

#4: Running Uphill Can Help Improve Your Running Speed

Hill repeats are one of the best speed workouts for runners of all distances, whether you are a sprinter or training for a long-distance race like a half marathon or marathon.

Attacking each hill rep at top speed is a great way to train your body to run faster without doing intervals on the track.

Moreover, the muscles used for running uphill are the same ones recruited for sprinting, so hill repeats can help condition your body for faster paces.

To boost your speed by running uphill, do high-intensity short hill repeats (100-200m) at near-maximal speed.

Running Uphill Benefits

#5: Running Uphill Can Improve Your Running Form

One of the best benefits of running uphill is that it’s a more natural way to work on your running form than trying to consciously do a bunch of form drills.

Running uphill forces a strong knee drive, good posture, quick turnover, and a shorter stride, so you land more on the balls of your feet or midfoot rather than your heel.

Be sure to keep your chest up, back straight, core tight, and shoulders back as you run uphill. Don’t hunch over.

#6: Running Uphill Improves Your Running Economy

Studies show2Barnes, K. R., Hopkins, W. G., McGuigan, M. R., & Kilding, A. E. (2013). Effects of Different Uphill Interval-Training Programs on Running Economy and Performance. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance8(6), 639–647. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.8.6.639 that running uphill can improve running economy and make you a more efficient runner by increasing your cardio capacity and aerobic energy production.

The better your running economy, the faster and longer you can run before being overcome by fatigue.

Running Uphill Benefits

#7: Running Uphill Can Increase Your Turnover

Your turnover refers to how quickly your feet land when you run, so it’s another way to look at running cadence. Running uphill requires you to shorten your stride and take shorter quicker steps. 

This can help you increase your running cadence, one of two factors determining your running pace (the other being stride length). 

However, unlike increasing your stride length, which has been shown to increase the risk of injuries, increasing your running cadence3Heiderscheit, B. C., Chumanov, E. S., Michalski, M. P., Wille, C. M., & Ryan, M. B. (2011). Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise43(2), 296–302. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181ebedf4 makes you faster and reduces the risk of injury. Win-win.

#8: Running Uphill Can Improve Your Race Performance

Who doesn’t want to run faster or set a new PR?

Studies show that incorporating hill training into your workout program can improve 4VO2 maxWorku, N., & Taddese, A. (2017). The impact of hill training on middle and long distance athletes: with specific reference to oromia water works athletics club, Ethiopia. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications7(11). https://www.ijsrp.org/research-paper-1117/ijsrp-p7136.pdf and overall race performance.

Running Uphill Benefits

#9: Running Uphill Can Reduce Your Risk of Musculoskeletal Injury

One of the risks of repetitive high-impact running is the development of overuse injuries. Your bones, joints, cartilage, and connective tissues are subjected to lots of pounding on flat roads, mile after mile.

Running uphill can reduce the risk of certain common running injuries, such as shin splints and knee pain, because it recruits large muscles like the glutes and hamstrings and reduces the pounding impact and load on your bones and joints.

#10: Running Uphill Burns a Lot of Calories

If you want to lose weight or boost your metabolism, here’s some good news: Running uphill torches calories and can rev your metabolism for hours after the workout, particularly if you run your hill repeats at max effort. 

Running Uphill Benefits

#11: Running Uphill Adds Variety to Your Training Plan

Flat running every day can become a bit dull for some.

Hill workouts break up the monotony of a regular run. For example, running uphill on the treadmill with repeats at an incline is one of the best ways to pass the time and bust boredom.

#12: Running Uphill Makes You Mentally Strong

Let’s face it: hills are hard for any runner. However, running uphill benefits your mental game nearly as much as your physical body.

Running uphill builds grit and can help you develop the determination and formidable attitude you need to succeed as the runner you want to be.

Focusing on the many benefits of running hills can give you a much-needed willpower boost to give your hill workout your best effort. Remember, hills feel hard for a reason: they work!

Have your running coach add some hill repeats to your training schedule so you can reap the benefits.

We’ve spoken plenty about uphill, but what about running downhill? Check out this next guide:

References

  • 1
    Padulo, J., Powell, D., Milia, R., & Ardigò, L. P. (2013). A Paradigm of Uphill Running. PLoS ONE8(7), e69006. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0069006
  • 2
    Barnes, K. R., Hopkins, W. G., McGuigan, M. R., & Kilding, A. E. (2013). Effects of Different Uphill Interval-Training Programs on Running Economy and Performance. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance8(6), 639–647. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.8.6.639
  • 3
    Heiderscheit, B. C., Chumanov, E. S., Michalski, M. P., Wille, C. M., & Ryan, M. B. (2011). Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise43(2), 296–302. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181ebedf4
  • 4
    VO2 maxWorku, N., & Taddese, A. (2017). The impact of hill training on middle and long distance athletes: with specific reference to oromia water works athletics club, Ethiopia. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications7(11). https://www.ijsrp.org/research-paper-1117/ijsrp-p7136.pdf
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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