Hill Running | The Secrets to Run Up Hills

I am willing to bet you dredge running hills.

You probably swear every run up a hill feels like you are climbing Mt. Everest (but surprisingly you are not completely wrong).

Scientifically speaking, to run up hills does require more energy in comparison to running on flat ground, because you are working against gravity.

So a lot of people are not a fan of hills since the uphill requires extra energy and can naturally slow you down while running them, but you can turn this fearsome enemy into an ally.

Trust me, when I started running I loved running on the track and hated any kind of hill even the small short ones, but as time went on I grew to like them (or hate them slightly less).

So here are a few things, I have learned about hill running that can help anyone get that new personal record in cross country, the half-marathon, or simply be more efficient at running.

Not All Hills Are The Same

Hills are just like your dating life or relationships (even marriage) – they are not all the same.

Some are short and painless while others seem to feel like they last forever and are painful.

But seriously, you can’t treat all the hills the same way, because some could be 50-foot steep hills while other hills could be a gradual incline.

Running hills is not copy paste, some hills you should power through while others you should conserve your energy.

Run Up Hills comparison of short up hills vs long up hill running

If you are approaching a hill you have never run before, you should determine the incline and length by quickly ask yourself the following questions

Is the hill at a constant incline, does it plateau, and does it gradually get steeper?

Or even can I overcome this hill quickly or is this hill going to last a half mile?

The answers you get for each question are going to determine how you approach each hill.

Technique

If you are running on the flat ground your job is simple.

Just try to move forward. Whether it’s on a cement sidewalk, on a trail, alongside a road, the answer is always the same keep moving forward.

But when you bring hills into running, it’s no longer just forward, but also moving upward and downward, so you have to change your running motion to match the incline.

Your body should be either running up the hill or running down the hill, but not running into the hill. (meaning you need to account for the elevation change)

Hill Running proper technique

So for uphill running, you are working against gravity which means you need to

  • Look up towards the top of the hill (not at your feet)
  • Pick up your knees a bit more since you are going up an incline
  • Strike the ground on the ball of your foot

On the flipside, downhill running seems fairly easy because gravity is on your side. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to running down a hill. (Don’t worry I made the same foolish mistake)

An improper technique for downhill running can reduce your free downhill speed or more importantly increase the chance of an injury.

Down Hill Running Technique

To avoid these issues in downhill running should

  • Not land on your heels
  • Increase your stride or “open up”
  • Relax and don’t tense up let the hill take you to the bottom
  • Look at the bottom (unless it’s bumpy terrain

The uphill techniques focus on running to the top as effectively as possible, while the downhill techniques focus more on reducing injury.

Ultimately, these technique tips should get your body in the mode of working with the uphill and downhill but not against the hill.

Use Your Energy Correctly

Energy efficiency is everything in long-distance running, but it gets amplified when you throw hills into the mix especially long hills.

For running hills, you are constantly juggling between leave some energy in the reserve tank or using more energy.

If done incorrectly you could end up burning out before you even reach the halfway point of the hill.

  • For Short Up Hills: it’s best to quickly overcome them and continue with the rest of the run.
  • For Long Up Hills: (even gradual incline), don’t try to speed up you will end up tiring yourself out. Instead, keep a consistent controlled pace during the uphill portion.
  • For Down Hills: let the hill almost carry you to the bottom. Unless you need to make an abrupt turn or the terrain is uneven don’t try to forcefully slow down and brake.

How to Make Hills Feel Easier

Hills are the weak spot or kryptonite for many runners… seriously a lot of runners.

I’ve seen so many runners (including myself) who are amazing on the track and flat ground get destroyed by hills in races.

You don’t want to be the guy who goes from 1st to last in the race or falls to the back of the pack during a group run because you can’t handle running hills.

Since hill running is such a quad intensive exercise (or leg strength in general), there are a few things you can do (even outside of running) to improve your hill running game.

  • Hill Workouts: you know this one is had to be on the list
  • Weight Lifting: squatting and leg press are get exercises now you don’t need the strength of a powerlifter, but you could work them out a bit more.
  • Box Jumps: This goes hand in hand with the same reason as weight lifting in that you are focused on strength for your muscles, not endurance.
  • Treadmill or Elliptical with an Incline: hey if you can’t find a hill make one. Plus you can be running uphill for a fairly long duration.
  • Run More Hills: The best way to improve is to practice doing hills (even if hills do suck).

These are all great ways to make running hills much easier, but nothing beats just incorporating more hills in your runs whether it’s a tempo workout or an easy run.

Eventually, if you run hills enough you’ll hardly even see them as an issue anymore. (You may even start liking them… okay, that might be a stretch!)

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