For most runners, the uphill sections are usually the most daunting part of the run, but if you know how to approach the hills, you will enjoy them much more, and getting to the top is quite an accomplishment!
Falling into a nice, comfortable rhythm, and using the correct technique will facilitate your climbs.
In this article, we will take a look at:
- When to run and when to hike
- Uphill running form and technique
- Training tips to improve your uphill running
- The benefits of running uphill.
Let’s jump in!
To Run or Not to Run, That is the Question
Before we get into how to run a hill, let’s take a look at which hills we should run.
First, we need to evaluate the grade of the incline, and then, the type of terrain.
After taking these factors into account, we also need to consider our fitness level and experience as they will also contribute to how we will tackle each hill.
Always remember that efficiency is key.
Learning when and how to use or conserve your energy will make running hills more and more manageable, and even enjoyable!
Here are some things to look out for to help you decide which hills to run and which to hike.
Remember, in trail running, there is absolutely no shame in hiking, and to be honest, it’s a very common practice, even for the pros.
Whether it be running or hiking, the most efficient choice is the one that will get us across that finish line faster.
What makes a hill a hikeable hill ?
When approaching a hill, take a look at the terrain.
Is it slippery due to a ton of mud, loose rocks, or leaves?
If it is slippery, it will most likely be more efficient to hike the hill.
You don’t want to feel that you’ve taken one step forward, but been pushed two steps back, wasting your precious energy desperately trying to run a slippery slope.
Also, gauge the steepness of the hill. If the hill is long and steep, you may want to approach it by alternating between hiking and running.
You can use different landmarks that you see on the trail to give yourself small goals, like a Fartlek, or “speed-play” run:
Try and run up to the pine tree you see ahead, or to that cool rock formation that looks like a piece of art. Then, once you reach it, hike until you feel ready to give it a go again. That’s fartleks!
If you know the terrain is going to be difficult and you are going to need to do a lot of hiking, bring your hiking poles along. When used correctly, they can give you a nice boost and take some weight off those tired legs.
The golden rule is that if you know you can hike the hill faster than you can run it, hike!
5 Uphill Running Form Pointers
Running uphill efficiently takes great technique, patience, and power.
Here are 5 tips to improve your uphill running form.
#1 Keep Upright
Be sure to keep your torso upright and avoid bending over at the waist.
You can lean forward slightly to avoid arching your back, but be sure to keep your upper body in a straight line.
This will allow sufficient airflow to the lungs that will result in comfortable breathing.
- Related: 9 Signs of Bad Running Form
#2 Take Shorter Steps
Take small, quick steps and use mostly forefoot landing for a speedy turnover.
Try not to exaggerate your launch, and adjust your stride according to the steepness of the hill.
The steeper the incline, the shorter the stride.
To give your calves a rest every once in a while, you can lower your heel to slightly touch the ground behind you.
Your calves will thank you for the break!
#3 Use Your Arms
Be sure to keep your arms at a 90-degree angle and do not let them drop behind you. If you do, you will need to expel more energy to bring them back – and believe me, you will want to conserve all the energy you possibly can and put it into the climb.
Use your swinging arms to propel you forward and help you advance up the hill.
Keep your arm movement in a back and forth motion and avoid swinging them side to side to prevent unnecessary upper body rotation.
#4 Look Ahead
Keep your shoulders back, neck relaxed, chin up, and look ahead at what’s to come on the trail.
You want to plan your route carefully and use the obstacles you come across to your advantage.
Small ledges and fixed rocks and roots can give you a boost if you place your foot in a favorable angle on top of them and rebound right back off.
Just make sure those rocks are fixed and aren’t going to come crumbling down!
#5 Stay Consistent
Maintain a nice steady pace, one that you know you can hold for the entirety of the hill.
As you advance up the hill you do not want your heart rate to spike into an uncomfortable anaerobic zone.
If you get to that point, it will be difficult to recover and will force you to slow to a walk.
Remember that you will not be able to continue at the same pace you were running on the flat section before the hill, so think about maintaining the same effort instead.
You have to forget about your pace when running up hills or you will just become frustrated with being unable to achieve it.
Take this time to enjoy a paceless run; they are far and few between!
Training for Uphill Running
Now let’s talk about how to improve your uphill running, which in turn, will improve stride rate, power, and have you running faster with less effort expended.
Hill repeats – 3 Variations
Hill repeats are a great workout for both road and trail runners.
They will not only improve your running mechanics, but your sheer power and running economy as well.
Let’s check out the variety of hill workouts you can incorporate into your training.
Before each of these workouts, be sure to warm up for 10-15 minutes to prepare your legs for what’s to come and finish off with a 10-minute cool down.
1. Short Hill Repeats
Choose a hill with a 10%+ incline. Run uphill for 10 seconds at a hard effort making sure to maximize your efficiency by using the correct technique and posture. Rest for 2-3 minutes between these tough sprints by walking back down slowly to the starting point. Repeat 8-10 times.
As you advance, you can increase the hard uphill effort to 15, 20, or even 30 seconds. However, as you increase your hard-effort running time, be sure to increase your rest to be able to recover properly.
After sprinting up these tough inclines, running them at a more comfortable pace down the line will feel much easier.
2. Long Hill Repeats
For longer hills with a moderate incline of between 5-8%, you can work longer bouts with a moderately hard effort. Try running 2 or 3 minutes uphill, and then jog easily back down for 4-5 reps.
You can also incorporate these longer hills into your long runs by alternating between running the hills at a slightly faster than usual effort, followed by a recovery jog or hike continuing uphill.
Do this workout based on effort and be sure to not go too hard as you don’t want to burn out for the rest of your long run.
3. Rolling Hill Workout
If you are running rolling hills, speed up a bit at the end of the downhill and use this momentum to bring you partially up the upcoming uphill.
Let yourself naturally glide up the beginning of the hill, and then fall back into your comfortable uphill pace.
Add these workouts to your training plan and you will start to see great results!
Hit the Gym
Specific functional training for runners will strengthen the muscles needed to be more efficient on hills.
Squats, lunges, calf raises, deadlifts, and hip thrusters are a good way to start. These exercises will help deliver more power to your stride and your uphill battles.
Try 8-10 reps of these exercises and their variations twice a week to begin to see results. Add in some plyometrics, upper body, and core exercises to make it an all around workout.
I hope these tips motivate you to get out there and start running hills, who knows, maybe there’s a vertical kilometer race in your future!
When you get to the top, enjoy the view because you’ve surely earned it!