Running is a great way to get in shape, lose weight, and improve your overall health. But if you’re looking for an even more challenging workout, consider hill running. Hill running offers all the benefits of regular running, plus some extra perks that you can’t get from other types of exercise. As a beginner, it might seem daunting to add hills to your running routine. But with a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to conquer any hill that comes your way. Read on to learn more about the benefits of hill running and how to do it correctly.
Benefits Of Hill Running
There are many benefits that come with hill running, including:
Improved Cardiovascular Fitness
Hill running is a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness. When you run uphill, your heart has to work harder to pump blood to your muscles. This helps to strengthen your heart and improve your overall cardiovascular health (5).
Increased Muscle Strength
Running uphill also challenges your muscles differently than running on level ground does.
Since you’re working against gravity, your leg muscles have to work harder to move your body upward. This can lead to increased muscle strength, particularly in your quads, hamstrings, and glutes (3).
Greater Calorie Burn
Because hill running is more challenging than regular running, it burns more calories. In fact, you can burn up to 30% more calories by running hills than you would by running on level ground (2). This makes hill running an excellent way to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
Improved Running Form
When running uphill, you naturally start to lean forward from your ankles. This helps you maintain good running form and can actually make you faster and more efficient when running on level ground (4).
Some aspects of your running form that may improve over time when you run uphill are:
- Turnover – Because you’re leaning forward, you’ll start to turnover your feet faster. This can lead to a faster cadence, the number of steps you take per minute.
- Stride Length – The incline of the hill will also cause you to take shorter strides. While this may seem like a negative, it’s actually a good thing. Taking shorter strides helps you maintain good running form and prevents injuries.
- Knee drive – When running uphill, you’ll start to drive your knees up more. This will help you develop more power in your legs, making you a faster and more efficient runner overall.
- Arm swing – Because you’re leaning forward when running uphill, your arm swing will naturally become shorter. This helps you maintain good running form and can actually increase your speed.
Endurance is the measure of how long you can sustain a certain level of activity. Hill running can help to increase your endurance by training your body to better use oxygen and improve its overall efficiency (5).
VO2 max is a measure of the amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. Hill running has been shown to increase VO2 max by as much as 20% (5). You’ll be able to run farther and faster after incorporating hills into your training.
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May Help Prevent Injuries
Hill running can actually help to prevent injuries. Since it strengthens the muscles around your knees and ankles, it can help to stabilize these joints and reduce your risk of developing a runner’s knee or other common running injuries (3).
Running on different terrains can also help to prevent injuries by reducing the impact on your joints. When you run on soft surfaces like dirt trails, your body has less of a shock than it does when running on harder surfaces like concrete.
Mental Health Benefits
In addition to the physical benefits, hill running can also improve your mental health. Exercise has been shown to release endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. This can help to improve your overall outlook on life and make you feel happier (1).
In addition, the challenge of running uphill can give you a sense of accomplishment and boost your self-confidence. Tackling a hill that once seemed impossible can give you a much-needed ego boost and help you feel more capable in other areas of your life.
Variation And Enjoyment
Even the most consistent runners experience burnout from time to time. If you’re starting to feel bored with your running routine, hill running can provide the variety and challenge that you need to stay motivated.
In addition, many runners simply enjoy the act of running uphill. The feeling of conquering a hill can be exhilarating and make the whole experience more enjoyable.
How To Run Uphill Correctly
Now that you know all of the benefits of hill running, you’re probably ready to give it a try. Here are a few tips to help you run uphill correctly and get the most out of your workout:
Shorten Your Stride
A common mistake beginners make when on their first ascent is to maintain the pace they had while running on flat terrain. This approach is problematic for several reasons. For starters, it can cause you to quickly become fatigued.
It also puts unnecessary stress on your joints and muscles, which can lead to injuries.
Remember, you’re aiming for equal effort not equal pace. Your speed shouldn’t change much when running uphill, but your stride should be shorter. This is perfectly normal and expected, so don’t fight it.
Keep An Upright Posture
When running uphill, it’s important to maintain an upright posture. This may feel unnatural at first, but it’s actually the most efficient way to run. Leaning too far forward will cause you to lose balance, while leaning too far back will make it difficult to maintain a consistent pace.
Ensure that your head, shoulders, and back form a straight line over your feet. Let your arms hang naturally at your sides and resist the urge to pump them too much.
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Check Your Breathing
As a beginner your breath is an important gauge of effort. When first starting out, it’s perfectly normal to feel out of breath when running uphill. However, you should still be able to carry on a conversation. If you can’t, then you’re probably working too hard and need to back off a bit.
Focus on taking deep, even breaths and resist the urge to hold your breath. This will help you to maintain a consistent pace and prevent you from becoming too fatigued.
Avoid Explosive Motions
Due to the resistance provided by the incline, it’s tempting to use explosive motions when running uphill. However, this can actually lead to injuries and should be avoided.
Instead of hammering it, focus on maintaining a smooth, consistent pace. Use a light, ankle-flicking motion with your feet and resist the urge to stomp.
Run Through The Top Of The Hill
After getting through the toughest part of the hill, it can be tempting to slow down or even stop. However, this will make it more difficult to get going again and may cause you to lose all of your momentum. Instead, focus on running through the top of the hill and maintaining your pace.
Stay In Control While Running Downhill
The key to efficient downhill running is to maintain control. This may seem counterintuitive, but resist the urge to let gravity do all the work. Instead, focus on using your quads and glutes to control your descent.
This will help you to avoid injuries and stay in better control of your body. It will also make it easier to maintain a consistent pace when running back uphill. If you start to feel out of control, shorten your strides until you feel more comfortable.
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Common Hill Running Problems And Their Causes
Now that you know how to run uphill correctly, let’s take a look at some of the most common problems runners face and their causes:
Running Out Of Breath
Contrary to popular opinion, you shouldn’t breathe too rapidly when running uphill. If you find yourself running out of breath, it’s probably because you’re over-striding or bounding too high.
To correct this, shift your focus from speed to turnover. This means taking shorter, more frequent strides rather than longer ones.
Tight Or Sore Lower Back
A degree of soreness when you start hill running is to be expected. However, if you find that your lower back is consistently tight or sore, then it’s probably because you’re leaning too far forward.
To correct this, focus on maintaining an upright posture and resist the urge to lean too far forward. Think about keeping your head, shoulders, and back in a straight line over your feet.
Tight Or Sore Shoulder And Arms
Tightness and soreness in the shoulders and arms is often caused by excessive arm swinging. It might also result from your arms extending too far forward.
To correct this, focus on keeping your arms close to your body and resist the urge to swing them too much. Let your arms hang naturally at your sides and only pump them enough to maintain balance.
Tight Hamstrings Or Sore Shins
Your hamstrings and shins are involved in helping you to control your descent when running downhill. As such, they can sometimes become tight or sore if you’re not used to the extra stress.
Excessive soreness may be a sign that you’re overstriding or landing too hard on your feet. To correct this, focus on taking shorter strides and landing lightly on your feet. Avoid stomping or striking the ground too hard with your feet.
While going downhill, you might find that your arms start to flail about wildly. In this case you might lose rhythm and feel as though you’re about to lose control.
This is more likely to happen when you’re going too fast. As earlier mentioned, being in control of your descent is key to efficient downhill running. So, if you find yourself flailing, focus on taking shorter strides and landing lightly on your feet.
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On a downhill run, your quads help to control your descent. As such, they can sometimes become sore if you’re not used to the extra stress.
Excessive soreness might be a sign that you’re either overstriding and making these muscles work too hard or that you’re braking too much.
Braking occurs when your feet strike the ground too hard and cause your body to slow down abruptly. This puts unnecessary stress on your quads and can lead to soreness. To correct this, focus on taking shorter strides and landing lightly on your feet.
To avoid overstriding, make sure that your stride length is appropriate for the terrain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some frequently asked questions about hill running:
Q: Is It Good To Run Hills Everyday?
A: No, you should not run hills every day. Running hills is a high-impact activity that puts a lot of stress on your joints and muscles. As such, doing it everyday can lead to overuse injuries.
Q: How Often Should I Run Hills?
A: You should run hills two to three times per week. This will give your body time to recover between sessions and reduce the risk of injury. Getting enough rest is important for any runner, but it’s especially important for those who run hills.
Q: Is Hill Running Good For Weight Loss?
A: Yes, hill running is a great way to lose weight. This is because it increases the intensity of your workout and helps you to burn more calories.
Q: What Are The Best Shoes For Hill Running?
A: The best shoes for hill running are those that provide good traction and support. They should also be comfortable and have a snug fit.
Q: What Is The Best Clothing For Hill Running?
A: The best clothing for hill running is that which is comfortable and allows you to move freely. You should dress according to the weather; if it’s cold, dress in layers.
Q: What Should I Eat Before Running Hills?
A: You should eat a light meal or snack about two hours before running hills. This will give your body time to digest the food and provide you with energy. Good pre-run foods include whole-grain toast with peanut butter or a banana.
Q: What Should I Drink Before Running Hills?
A: Drink about eight ounces of water or a sports drink about 30 minutes before running hills. This will help to keep you hydrated and prevent cramping.
Q: What Should I Eat After Running Hills?
A: Eat a meal or snack that contains carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes of finishing your run. This will help to replenish your energy stores and repair any damaged muscles. Good post-run foods include a turkey sandwich or a banana with almond butter.
The Bottom Line
Hill running is a great way to improve your fitness and lose weight. However, it’s important to do it correctly in order to avoid injury. To run hills properly, focus on taking shorter strides and landing lightly on your feet. You should also dress appropriately for the weather and make sure to eat and drink before and after your run.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A Scoping Review of the Relationship between Running and Mental Health (2020, nih.gov)
- Accuracy of the energy expenditure during uphill exercise measured by the Waist-worn ActiGraph (2019, nih.gov)
- Effects of Repeated Hill Training on Performance and Injury Occurrences in Ethiopian Youth Sports Academy Middle Distance Runners (2017, researchgate.net)
- Efficacy of downhill running training for improving muscular and aerobic performances (2017, cdnsciencepub.com)
- Hill Runner’s Physiology, Performance and Nutrition: A Descriptive Study (2021, nih.gov)