Running up hills to help improve endurance, running form, and efficiency on flat ground
Running up hills sounds horrible. In fact, we know that to run up hills is to feel pain, so why exactly does everybody seem to be doing it? Apart from a few obvious answers – exertion, strength training, and taking their running form to new heights – there are some lesser-known benefits of this age-old running approach.
Hill running helps us all, from extreme athletes to fresh-out-the-gate beginners, the reasons for this style are prolific. If you master hill running, you can improve your cardiovascular system, running speed in a straight line, calf muscles, nervous system connectivity, force potential, joint mobility, endurance, support muscles… as I said, prolific.
But just because everybody’s doing it, doesn’t mean it’s easy, or at least there isn’t proper form involved. So, to realise the benefits of running hills, and maintain a healthy approach and risk-free style, then all you have to do is read this post… oh, and take running uphill into consideration.
Some don’ts before we do…
Do not bend your torso or waist at a 90-degree angle, even if you read the words ‘bend at the hip, lean forward slightly.’ It’ll affect your ability to utilise speed, and worse can even do some damage to your back muscle integrity. The best way to enact lean is to simply imagine a proper, straight, plain running form while you run up the hill. In short, run normally, and you’ll develop a slight lean (healthy lean) as a result.
If you master this fairly simple yet commonly missed method, then you’ll feel the full benefits of hill running. If this lean is off, then you may be putting too much strain on certain muscle groups. Quads, for example, are super important (obviously…), and if you overcompensate too much with your lean, you’ll be straining them, causing potential injury, and certainly slowing your game.
And if you want to really up your game, then maybe you’ll want to start hill racing. If that’s the case, then you’ll want to vary your pace. Yes, a slight forward lean is very important, and hill running form has to come first, but running economy is just as vital in making sure you’re running, let alone winning races. Foot speed and stride rate (often in splits – i.e. first few attempts sprinting, next few walking) are really good for acclimatising to hilly environments.
So what about downhill running?
Commonly, runners make mistakes on downhills. Certain runners lean back and slow, increasing impact forces on joints and causing you to slow. Others do the reverse, putting too much lean-in and accelerating too quickly downward (causing unnecessary quadriceps muscle damage).
In summary, it’s fairly simple – be safe, feel right, and work out smart. You need to focus on posture, then increment and track your progress going forward. I don’t want to have to walk you through the ups and downs of hill running again, so hopefully, this short article has helped clear up those fundamental basics.
Is it dangerous to run downhill?
Hill sprints can be very dangerous, downhill is no different. Be careful when doing any physical activity.