Hill running and how to improve it

Runners nowadays understand that combining strength work with regular running is very important. It strengthens ligaments and tendons, decreases the risk of injury as well as improves overall running form. But most runners often do strength-specific work in the gym, through leg extensions, squats or arm and shoulder presses which increase muscular strength in isolation of your running. However, in contrast, hill running helps you to do these strength works during your normal running. Specifically, hill running brings to runners other benefits. Based on my knowledge, I would like to introduce some main benefits that hill running provides.

Benefits from hill running

Hill running and how to improve it
  • Burn more calories: there is a difference in the amount of calories burned when running on flat surface and incline surface. Running uphill is proven to be able to burn more calories than normal road running.
  • Help prevent shin splints: Running on flat or downhill ground often puts more pressure on your shinbones, which can increase the risk of shin splints. But running uphill can reduce this stress and at the same time, the risk of shin splints.
  • Increase your endurance and speed: spend a few weeks on hills and you will feel your regular route is easier when switching back because nothing can build running strength better than hills. Running inclines on hills requires your muscles to work harder in each step. This makes you stronger and also builds up the needed parts to help you run faster and more efficient on flat grounds.
  • Change running style, change your mind: try combining your regular route with a few hills. This may make you end up with a little extra spring in your steps, or sore hamstrings with a weird limp but at least you will not feel bored. Additionally, the scenery on the hills is often very nice that certainly makes your mind more comfortable and relaxed to forget the difficulties you have to face.
  • Can replace for a variety of workout types: runners often do a variety of workout types to improve different aspects of their running such as sprints, track work­outs, long runs, and cross-training. But in case the runners are only allowed to do only one type of workout, running on hills should be firstly recommended. This type of running get your entire body deeply involved to provide needed improvement.

The Proper Technique for Running Uphill and Downhill

Running Form on Hills

Hill running has two main sections including uphill and downhill. Using the correct form while running up and down hills can help you avoid unexpected injuries and make you feel more confident not only when running uphill but downhill also. However, there are many runners don’t run with proper form that often makes them feel physically and mentally uncomfortable. Both running uphill and downhill require several small form tweaks to maximize your efficiency and power as well as provide you with needed oxygen. And now I will introduce to you some simple form tweaks to help save you energy and deal with the hills easier.

Running uphill

When running up a hill, you have to do extra work to overcome the gravity and carry you up the slope safely.

  • Try to keep the same stride frequency like when running on flat ground and shorten it when you adjust to the grade.
  • Keep your chest up and open is very important to help you breath more comfortable. Leaning forward is necessary when running up a hill, but not too far forward. And you should lean at the hips, not the waist because this may constrict your airway and make it more difficult to breath deeply.
  • Keep your eyes and head up to look about 30 meters in front of you. Use your arms as pistons and control them straight forward and back. You should keep your arms at a 90-degree angle at the elbow, and swing straight back, not across your body. Your arms always have the same rhythm with your legs. They are important in maintaining proper form and leg speed.
  • High knee drives off the hill.
  • Focusing on plantar flexion at the ankle when pushing off the ground helps you save a lot of energy and at the same time help you get up the hill faster.

Running downhill

Being different from uphill running that requires additional effort, running downhill in correct form will only help you as well as make a big improvement for your performance.

  • Like running uphill, you should make a slight lean forward at the hips but don’t overdo the lean to take advantage of the downhill in benefiting from gravity.
  • Keep your head up and your eyes looking forward like when running uphill. Don’t swing your arms to the sides because this will waste energy. Just relax them and move forward and back slightly.
  • Foot contacts ground at your midfoot to maintain speed while still being in control. But land right under your torso or slightly in front of your pelvis depends on the grade of the downhill.
  • The length of stride should be naturally extended when running downhill so you don’t have to focus on extending your stride length. The grade of the hill and the pace will do this for you naturally.

Tips to improve your hill running

  • Maintaining the correct form is the first tip to help you run on hills well. When running uphill, keep your feet low to the ground and shorten your stride. Try to keep your hips, chest, and head perpendicular to an imaginary horizontal line. Focus on maintaining the good form and increase the rhythm of your arms slightly when you are near the crest of the hill. When running downhill, take quick, short, light steps and put your gravity center over your legs.
  • Running as efficiently as possible and keeping a relaxed mind is one of the best ways to improve and increase your uphill performance, especially on longer hills. Using a mantra is one good method to help your mind relax to deal with uphill zone. Rhythmically recite the mantra in your head makes you not feel hard or tired when running on hills.
  • Maintaining deep, rapid, and powerful breathing is very necessary when running uphill. Oxygen is major fuel for your muscles so you need to get it as much as possible. Some runners find it helpful to coordinate their steps with their breathing. On a long hill, take one breathe every three or four steps. But on shorter and more intense hills, try taking one breathe every two steps
  • Do some exercises that can improve your running such as Sideways Lunge, Squat, Deadlift, Step Up and Forward Lunge.
  • After every hill session, take at least two days for recovering before you continue performing another quality workout.

Some exercises help improve your hill running

  • Sideways Lunge: Step to your left, bending your left knee until the hamstring is parallel to the floor. Return to the first position and repeat on the right. Repeat this exercise about 20 times.
  • Squat: keep your feet shoulder-width apart and hold dumbbells. Lower into a seated position while shifting your weight to the heels. Descend until your hamstrings are parallel to the ground and then stand back up. Remember to keep your eyes looking forward. Repeat this 25 times at a controlled pace.
  • Deadlift: this helps enhance the glutes, calves, and hamstrings, which give you control and stability on downhills. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the knees and waist to pick up two dumbbells on the floor then stand up and nip your shoulder blades together. Next, lower back down to slightly tap the dumbbells on the ground before standing up again. Repeat this 25 times at a controlled pace.
  • Step Up: Place your left foot on a box while holding dumbbells. When you step up put your weight into your heel. Step back down and repeat with the right foot. Repeat and alternate legs 20 times. This exercise will help strengthen quads for stronger hill climbing.

Conclusion

Like other things in life, the most challenging endeavors often give the worthiest reward and this is true with running hills. I hope that with some tips as well as exercises for improving hill running, you will increase the chance to conquer this difficult workout.

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