5 Expert Tips For Running Uphill: How To Run Uphill Effectively

Don't let gradients ruin your run - learn how to conquer those uphills!

As a certified running coach, my goal is to create training plans and workouts that will help each individual runner reach their running goals.

While the training plans for an experienced distance runner who is training for a half marathon, marathon, or even ultramarathon will look very different than training plans for beginners, there are certain types of running workouts that can be beneficial for runners of all levels.

Hill workouts and hill sprints certainly fall in this category and can help runners who are looking to run faster, build leg strength, and improve their ability to maintain a faster running speed running for long distances.

Running uphill helps build strength in your hamstrings, glutes, calves, hip flexors, quads, core muscles, and even your upper body.

I also love to incorporate hill repeats in the training plans for beginners because hill sprints help you work on a proper running form and technique in an effective way that translates to not only better uphill running but also faster on flat land.

In this guide, we will discuss the benefits of uphill running for runners of all fitness levels and goal race distances, how to run uphill with proper form, tips for maximizing the benefits of hill workouts on your training plan, and how to run hills in races.

running uphill

What Are the Benefits of Running Uphill?

Almost every distance runner has had the dreaded feeling of turning the corner in a half marathon, marathon, or ultra running race only to see a huge hill looming before them.

Perhaps it is a short, steep hill or what seems to be an endless uphill climb that stretches for so long you can’t even see the top. 

While you can’t do much about flattening the hills on a race course, you can prepare yourself to conquer steep uphills and long uphills by training on hills and doing hill workouts in your training program.

Here are some of the top benefits of running uphill or doing hill repeats:

#1: Increasing your cardiovascular fitness

Because you are running uphill against the resistance of gravity, your heart rate1Padulo, 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 breathing rate increase significantly when you run uphill.

Hill workouts can improve the efficiency of your cardiovascular system, strengthen your heart and lungs, and facilitate cardiovascular adaptations2Hellsten, Y., & Nyberg, M. (2015). Cardiovascular Adaptations to Exercise Training. Comprehensive Physiology6(1), 1–32. https://doi.org/10.1002/cphy.c140080 such as increased stroke volume, all of which can help increase your aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and running economy.3Barnes, K. R., & Kilding, A. E. (2015). Running economy: measurement, norms, and Determining Factors. Sports Medicine – Open1(1).

#2: Increasing leg strength

Hill training is one of the best ways to build strength in the leg muscles, especially the posterior chain muscles such as the hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles. 

Uphill running also strengthens the quads, hip flexors, core muscles, and upper body muscles so long as you are using proper running form, driving your knees up, and powerfully pumping your arms.

running uphill benefits

#3: Efficiently building strength and running speed

Running coaches often describe hill repeats as strength training and speed training rolled into one because you are running against the resistance of gravity uphill while sprinting, requiring explosive and powerful contractions from your leg muscles and rapid, precise neuromuscular coordination.

#4: Increasing sprinting speed

While incorporating hill sprints into your training plan can help you run faster at all distances, hill workouts are one of the best ways to help you increase your maximum running speed for sprinting.

The muscles used for running uphill are the same ones that power explosive sprinting, so hill repeats can help condition your body for faster running, even on flat ground.

#5: Increasing Calories Burned Running

Running uphill burns calories,4Seki, K., Kyröläinen, H., Sugimoto, K., & Enomoto, Y. (2019). Biomechanical factors affecting energy cost during running utilising different slopes. Journal of Sports Sciences38(1), 6–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2019.1676527 increases metabolic rate, and helps burn body fat due to the high-intensity nature of hill intervals. Adding uphill sprints to your training plan can potentially support weight loss when combined with a healthy, calorie-controlled diet.

#6: Improving running technique and helping you master proper running form

One of the best benefits of running uphill (especially for beginners) is that it’s a more organic way to work on your running form and running technique than trying to do running form drills or work on your running form in the middle of a longer run.

Running uphill forces a strong knee drive, good posture, quick turnover, and a shorter stride such that you land more on the forefoot or midfoot rather than your heel. 

What I love about having even experienced runners focus on hill sprints is that it can help reprogram the neuromuscular system to shorten your stride length and potentially prevent overstriding with regular training runs on flat surfaces.

Here are some additional benefits of hill running for runners:

  • Improving running economy,5Barnes, 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 which can help you run faster and longer without fatigue.
  • Helping increase your running cadence, or foot turnover, which not only helps you run faster but can reduce the risk of injury.6Heiderscheit, 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
  • Studies show7Barnes, 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 incorporating hills training into your training plan can improve race performance.
  • Increasing VO2 max.8Worku, 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
  • Increasing mental toughness.
  • Adding variety to your training plan to reduce the risk of overuse injuries, burnout, and boredom.
uphill running form

What Is Proper Uphill Running Form?

Here are some tips for uphill running form:

  • Be sure to keep your chest up, back straight, core tight, head neutral, and shoulders back as you run uphill.
  • Lean forward into the hill ever so slightly from your hips, but you should not have an excessive forward lean. Make sure that you are not hunching over or rounding in your shoulders.
  • Pump your arms vigorously to drive your knees up.
  • Keep your stride length short and land lightly on the balls of your feet.
  • For hill workouts, focus on intensity and cresting all the way up and over the top of the hill. With hills in races, try to keep your effort level the same, which means your pace will slow down running uphill and will increase running downhill relative to running on flat land.
5 Expert Tips For Running Uphill: How To Run Uphill Effectively 1

What Are the Best Tips for Running Hills?

Here are running tips for incorporating hill workouts into your training plan:

#1: Warm Up and Cool Down 

Make sure to do a thorough warm up and cool down after your hill running sessions. 

Stretch your calves, Achilles tendons, quads, glutes, and hamstrings thoroughly after uphill running workouts.

#2: Mimic Race Conditions 

If you are following a training plan that is geared towards a specific race, you can maximize the benefits of hill workouts by trying to replicate hills that you will tackle on race day.

For example, if you know that the half marathon course you are going to run has many short steep hills, focus on hill sprints on steep inclines to strengthen your quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors rather than doing longer hill repeats on a gradual gradient.

In contrast, if the race course profile shows longer hills that are upwards of a half mile, mile, or even several miles at a constant uphill, you should incorporate hill repeats on longer hills to improve your uphill running economy, increase VO2 max by combining aerobic and anaerobic training, and build mental toughness. 

Trail runners or ultrarunners who are going to be doing an ultra marathon should focus on hill training on trails.

That way, you are practicing navigating the challenges of running uphill coupled with the technical nature of trail running such as avoiding obstacles and navigating uneven terrain.

This will help ensure that your hill training translates more directly to your race performance.

running uphill

#3: Crest the Hill

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

Focus on maintaining proper form and running technique all the way up and over the top of the hill until you reach flat land for the start of the downhill on the other side.

#4: Walk the Downhills

Unless you are doing a hill workout with longer hills done at a normal running speed, I generally recommend walking back down after each hill repeat rather than running downhill. 

Running downhill with steep hills puts a tremendous amount of stress on your quads9Bontemps, B., Vercruyssen, F., Gruet, M., & Louis, J. (2020). Downhill Running: What Are The Effects and How Can We Adapt? A Narrative Review. Sports Medicine50(12), 2083–2110. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01355-z to stabilize your knees and if you are doing hill training on roads, the pounding of asphalt running downhill with each hill repeat can put excessive stress on your shins.

It can also feel nice to walk downhill backwards if you are doing uphill sprints on a grassy hill. 

This is a great way to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendons while building in recovery after each hill sprinting interval.

If you do want to practice running downhill, make sure to use proper form and keep your stride length short by focusing on fast turnover and keeping your leading leg closer to your center of mass rather than overstriding and reaching your heel far downhill.

#5: Don’t Overdo It

Running uphill repeats should be a high-intensity interval training workout, so it is as taxing as speed work on the track, plyometrics, or strength training exercises.

Don’t start with 10 or 20 hill repeats during your first hill training session.

Start with just a few uphill sprints and gradually increase the number of reps each week.

Do not do more than one hill workout per week and make sure to build in recovery days afterwards to prevent over training and to reduce the risk of injury.

Remember, hills feel hard for a reason: they work! 

Interested in how to run hills, but downhills? Read our next guide for expert tips:

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
    Hellsten, Y., & Nyberg, M. (2015). Cardiovascular Adaptations to Exercise Training. Comprehensive Physiology6(1), 1–32. https://doi.org/10.1002/cphy.c140080
  • 3
    Barnes, K. R., & Kilding, A. E. (2015). Running economy: measurement, norms, and Determining Factors. Sports Medicine – Open1(1).
  • 4
    Seki, K., Kyröläinen, H., Sugimoto, K., & Enomoto, Y. (2019). Biomechanical factors affecting energy cost during running utilising different slopes. Journal of Sports Sciences38(1), 6–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2019.1676527
  • 5
    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
  • 6
    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
  • 7
    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
  • 8
    Worku, 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
  • 9
    Bontemps, B., Vercruyssen, F., Gruet, M., & Louis, J. (2020). Downhill Running: What Are The Effects and How Can We Adapt? A Narrative Review. Sports Medicine50(12), 2083–2110. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01355-z
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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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