Have you ever altered your running route just to avoid a hill? Admit it, we’ve all done it at some point.
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 you do it all the time.
Bad news, you gotta hit that hill, especially when you don’t want to.
You’ve heard the benefits of adding hills, but let’s recap them along with how to run them properly and how to add them to your training plan to get the maximum benefit! Running hills tips for everyone!
BENEFITS OF HILL TRAINING
Doesn’t matter whether you are 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.
You begin to fatigue less as you improve muscle elasticity
You use a variety of muscles, which gives others a moment to recovery
Increased cardiovascular abilities to due harder efforts
It’s impossible to heel strike running up hill
Shorter strides both up and down
Stronger muscles to hold form when fatigued
Calories. Let’s be honest I love that hills burn more calories too because one of my favorite things about running…is eating.
Now let’s talk about running hills the right way to ensure they really are injury prevention, not creation.
DOWNHILL RUNNING TIPS
I’ll never forget the moment I started running at 12,000 feet in Jackson Hole…first I thought someone was squeeze my lungs like a balloon, but second I was having a minor panic attack looking at the steep downhill incline we were about to tackle.
While downhill seems like it should be the easy part, it’s often the most painful for many runners because it creates more pressure on the knees and legs with a continuous breaking effect. Here are some tips to do it right:
Forefoot – The most important thing about your stride is to stay focused on forefoot landing. As soon as you land with your heel it creates a brake effect, which jars the entire body.
Stride – Experts vary here and some say by striding out you’ll be less likely to heel strike, others say the shorter stride and faster turnover will get you there. The goal in both is the above mentioned heel strike prevention, so play with it and see what feels best.
Land light – Still think about landing on the mid to forefoot and not pounding in to the ground. Speed up – Let your foot turn over increase, it happens naturally so let it go.
Arm swing – Keep your arms lower, still 90 degree bend, and swing a little faster. Your legs will usually follow the pace of your arms!
Relax – Gravity is going to do the work here, so try to take a breather by relaxing and letting it flow.Cross Training – Low weight, high reps on the leg extension machine can also help to strengthen quads and knees for those training for a long downhill event.
No hills available? Don’t think you can just skip downhill training, it will hurt you on race day. Coach Andrew Kastor recommends plyo drills that focus on the down movement. i.e jumping down off boxes and running down stadium stairs.
UPHILL RUNNING TIPS
One of the most common mistakes runners make is incorrect form when tackling a behemoth of a hill.
Stride – Rather than extending your stride as if trying to power up the hill, shorten it. It might feel even awkwardly short at first, but this will increase foot turn over and requires a great deal less effort. Think about picking your knee up.
Conserve – Stop attacking hills, unless you are doing a hill interval workout. Charging up hill is just wasting energy that you could be using to gain speed on the down or maintain pace later. Instead, maintain the effort of your pace prior to the hill. In fact, one of the keys to good downhill speed is not being exhausted from the uphill.
Arm Swing – ChiRunning says to imagine that you are 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.
Pictured here Killian Jornet doing the upper cut, lifting his knees and landing on forefoot…yeah he’s kinda of an amazing runner.
Posture – 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.
Fuel – 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.
Cross Training – Cycling and stairs are going to increase quad strength and endurance for all hill running.You'll never skip running hills again after reading this! #FitFluenial #RunChat Click To Tweet
Great now you know the why and the how, so let’s talk about the when.
Start small – 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.
Hills early in training program – 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 the program you can simply end any of your weekday or long runs with 5-10 hill repeats. 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.
Weekly – If you can find a path with rolling hills, start adding it in to your weekly runs. If you can do it up to 3 times a week, you’ll quickly reap the speed and strength benefits.
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.
How often do you run hills?
Hilliest race you’ve done?
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