How to Become Better at Running Hills and How All Runners Can Benefit - Live Slow Run Far

How to Become Better at Running Hills and How All Runners Can Benefit

Uphill running isn’t just for trail runners and those training for a mountainous race. Embracing the hills can unlock a treasure trove of benefits for every runner, regardless of your goals. From boosting your running economy and increasing flat speed to preventing injuries and building mental toughness, incorporating hills into your training unlocks a potent formula for overall running improvement.

But how do you actually improve at running hills? Uphill running ability will largely depend on three things: technique, endurance and strength. And as simple as it may sound, the best way to get better at running hills… is by running them. But let’s break it down and transform you into a hill-dominating machine. 

4 Keys to Hill Running Mastery

1. Technique

Think tall and think quick and light. Eyes ahead of you, not down, and try embodying a tall posture. As far as your stride – which will naturally both shorten and slow down – you want to think shorter steps but more often. Keeping “quick and light” in your head is also helpful, as this mindset often translates into your actual running technique. 

2. Strength

Don’t underestimate the power of strong legs and core. Regular lower body strength training, targeting muscles like quads, hamstrings, and glutes, will significantly improve your hill climbing ability. Additionally, incorporating flat speedwork, like shorter intervals, strengthens the same muscle groups used for uphill running.

3. Endurance

Hills demand stamina. Gradually increase the difficulty of your hill running, starting with smaller inclines and shorter distances. As you conquer these, progressively challenge yourself with steeper slopes and longer climbs. Remember, consistency is key – make hill repeats a regular part of your training routine.

4. Hill Workouts

Incorporate dedicated hill interval workouts into your training once a week. Start small and work your way up.

Bonus Tips

  • Hill strides: Once or twice a week, incorporate hill strides. These are short bursts (20-30 seconds) uphill at a controlled effort, focusing on good form, forceful strides, and powerful pushes off. Aim for 6-8 repetitions. Read more about exactly how to perform strides and their benefits in this post here: Strides: What, How, and Why for Runners.
  • Start with stairs: Stair running is an excellent way to cultivate the “quick and light” technique vital for uphill running. 
  • Double up on hills: If you live in a place where hills are hard to come by, on your long runs, run all your hills two or three times before continuing on. So when you come to the top of a hill, run back down and up it again. This is a great way to accumulate more elevation into training. 

A Note on Walking Hills: 

Walking hills is absolutely necessary at times and should never be looked down upon, but if you want to improve at running hills, you need to run them. So focus on hills that are actually runnable. Improving at walking hills can be very important for those participating in races with a lot of gain, and is very trainable as well, but that’s a topic for another time. 

Benefits of Hill Running

  • Enhances Running Economy and Form: Running uphill promotes a natural adjustment in your form, encouraging shorter strides and a higher cadence. This leads to improved efficiency, which also benefits your performance on flat terrain.
  • Develops Mental Toughness: The challenge of pushing yourself uphill strengthens your mental fortitude. It builds resilience and enhances your capacity to persevere when the going gets tough.
  • Boosts Speed: Uphill running doesn’t just enhance your ability to tackle inclines; the strength and power you develop from regular hill workouts directly translate into increased speed on flat surfaces.
  • Reduces Injury Risk: While intense workouts on flat terrain, particularly on roads, can strain your body, running uphill offers many of the same physiological benefits but is gentler on your joints and muscles. Additionally, the muscles strengthened through uphill running contribute to a more durable body, less susceptible to injuries.

In summary – to improve at running hills, focus on light, quick short steps, strength train, don’t neglect flat speed workouts, consistently run hills, and don’t forget those hill workouts.

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