Have you ever altered your running route just to avoid a hill? These running hills tips will help change your mindset, so that even if you don’t love them…you might just start to seek them out.
Maybe you’re 18 miles in to a long run and just don’t have the umph or you’re hitting a killer pace and don’t want to see it drop. Or maybe you find yourself subconsciously avoiding the hills because you’re tired.
Bad news, you gotta hit that hill, especially when you don’t want to.
Hill Running Benefits
Running uphill benefits are massive and sometimes surprising, so let’s recap them along with how to run them properly and how to add hill workouts to your training plan to get the maximum benefit!
Running hills tips for everyone!
Doesn’t matter whether you’re training for a 5K or marathon, hills are an important part of the process.
Here are just a few of the reasons that every running coach will put some hills in your plan and why some of the fastest runners you know make them a regular part of training:
Your muscles learn to contract with more force and power.
Your stronger quads allow you to pick your knees up (for better running form).
You begin to fatigue less as you improve muscle elasticity.
You use a variety of muscles, which gives others a moment to recover.
Increased cardiovascular abilities to due harder efforts, allow you to run harder and faster on flat ground.
It’s impossible to heel strike running uphill.
Shorter strides both up and down ensure you land mid-foot.
Stronger muscles to hold form when fatigued
Increased Calorie Burn
Let’s be honest I love that hills burn more calories too because one of my favorite things about running…is eating.
Due to the harder effort, you’ll be both building muscle for the long term and burning more calories in the short term.
Does running hills help burn fat? Yes, but all workouts do. However, long steady state runs are the most ideal for turning your body in to a fat burner, while short intense sessions can up the calorie burn for a specific workout.
And yes, as I note with trekking poles below you can increase the burn even more by using them if you’re doing super technical trail running…which for me usually looks like hiking, ha!
Now let’s talk about running hills the right way to ensure they really are injury prevention, not creation.
What is the Correct Way to Run Uphill?
One of the most common mistakes runners make is incorrect form when tackling a behemoth of a hill.
- Shorter stride
- Less intensity
- Change your arm swing
- Stay tall
- Fuel up
Hill training is actually one of the best ways to improve your overall running form. Use these hill running techniques to get up and over feeling better.
Rather than extending your stride as if trying to power up the hill, shorten it. It might feel awkwardly short at first, but this will increase foot turn over and requires a great deal less effort.
Think about picking your knee up, which you’ll see in the example of Kilian below. You’re going for that optimal stride you often see with sprinters on the track.
Stop attacking hills, unless you’re doing a hill interval workout. Charging up hill is just wasting energy that you could be using to gain speed on the downhill or maintain your pace later.
Instead, focus on maintaining the effort of your run prior to the hill. In fact, one of the keys to good downhill speed is not being exhausted from the uphill.
ChiRunning says to imagine that you’re punching someone in front of you with an upper cut. This is to say your arms stay at your sides, but punch up instead of just forward to help propel you.
Once again, you want to ensure your arms are being used to propel you, not just hanging by your sides and not crossing in front of your body. In fact, many trail runners like to utilize trekking poles which help you to stabilize yourself on the steep inclines, declines and technical parts. HUGE bonus because you’re now getting a full body workout!
Pictured here Killian Jornet doing the upper cut, lifting his knees and landing on forefoot…yeah he’s kinda of an amazing runner.
When we get tired, we look down and our shoulders start to slump…this is not going to make getting up the hill easier. In fact it’s going to make breathing harder and slow you down, so pretend someone is at the top and a rope is attached to your hips and pulling.
Imagery is a great tool used by a lot of elite runners, why wouldn’t you attempt it as well? That rope pulling you to the top can mentally conserve energy or keep your chest up and pulling forward.
Fuel for the Effort
Hills increase your heart rate, at which point your body switches from fat to carbs for fuel. Ingesting some carbs prior to hitting steep or hilly portions of a longer training run can be beneficial.
This could mean taking a shot blok 5 minutes before you start hitting hills or after you’ve warmed up and are ready to take on a hill workout.
One of the things we get out of running uphill is quad strength. You can also improve this, through cycling and using stairs as part of your cross training. Both of these are then going to ensure that on race day, you can power through both the ups and downs.
Downhill running is a whole different beast, which is why I’ve written a separate post about it! You need to change your form to save your knees and learn how to take advantage of the flow for race day PR’s.
Hill Workouts for Distance Runners
Great now you understand hill running benefits and tips to make you a better hill runner. Now we want to explore how often to include hill workouts and some examples.
A few notes:
- Find a steep hill near you for repeats. Nothing close? We used bridges in Miami and sometimes the ramps inside an empty parking garage when running in a group.
- Find rolling routes for longer runs. It might be worth a little drive to help you get the variety.
- Embrace the treadmill for long steady inclines, if you don’t have one near you.
If you haven’t been doing hills, then start with short hills that have a very small incline. Get used to the feel of both up and down before tackling bigger hills.
At the end of one of your regular easy runs:
- add in 5 repeats of 20 seconds hard uphill
- walking down to a full recovery
- go again
- Within a few weeks, try adding these repeats to the end of a few runs
From there you can start to change things up with the hill workouts below.
Hills Early in Marathon Training
Doing this will build quality leg strength and has been shown to help with injury prevention per Matt Fitzgerald. It’s a key for the runners I coach and I think has kept many of them injury free.
Early in your half marathon training plan you can simply end any of your weekday or long runs with 5-10 hill repeats, as noted above. At first just get used to running up and walking down, after a few weeks start increasing the uphill pace and over time increase the duration.
Examples of increasing reps, time or effort:
- 5 reps x 20 seconds – 10K
- 8 reps x 30 seconds – 10K
- 12 reps x 15 seconds – 5K pace
- 5 reps x 1 minute – half marathon pace
Added to Normal Runs
If you can find a path with rolling hills, start adding it in to your weekly rotation of runs. If you can do it up to 3 times a week, you’ll quickly reap the speed and strength benefits, but don’t do it at the exclusion of taking enough runs easy and fully recovering between workouts.
Rolling hills throughout your workout are especially beneficial when you start thinking about conquering heartbreak hill!
- Warm up with 10-15 minutes easy running
- Increase effort to medium (half marathon pace, not 5K) for 2-3 miles of rolling hills
- Cool down with 10-15 minutes easy running
Another option is to run it more as a fartlek style workout.
- Warm up with 10-15 minutes easy running
- 10 x 1 minute hard efforts, focus on starting them at the bottom of a hill
- Cool down with 10-15 minutes easy running
Pace or Effort
Learning to focus on effort over pace can make conquering hills easier.
As you allow your body to slow conserving energy on the way up, pick up speed on the way down and even out in the flat areas.
I love doing this treadmill workout because your hard efforts are rewarded. In this workout, your goal is to try allow your pace to change as needed to maintain the same effort level. You’ll find by the 0% that your legs are ready to fly.
- Warm up with 10 minutes easy running
- 1 mile @ 3% incline
- 1 mile @ 1% incline
- 1 mile @ 5% incline
- 1 mile @ 0% incline
All right, no more excuses! Now you know that hills are key to your goals, I’m absolutely positive there will be fights over space on every nearby hill.
How often do you run hills?
Hilliest race you’ve done?
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