While some runners love running hills more than others, none of us are strangers to them! Hills are incredibly useful tools in tackling running challenges, developing muscle strength, and learning how to run properly. If you’re like Nate, Craig and me, it’s virtually impossible to get through a training run without running uphill and downhill the whole time!
Hill running workouts are excellent for improving running posture and endurance, especially when we run them short and fast–also known as hill sprints. Here a just a few of the many benefits of running hills:
Read on for three quick hill running tips that can make running easier–and can help you become a stronger, more efficient runner!
One significant tendency we see in hill running is poor posture, particularly in the hips.
As the slope of a hill steepens, so does our perception of leaning forward. We’re naturally inclined to deal with it by bending at the waist–as if reaching for something on the floor.
Bending over like this creates harmful, unnecessary stress on our lower backs. It also becomes more difficult for us to maintain full hip extension, robbing each stride of power and efficiency.
Now that you’re aware, let’s protect our lower backs and improve stride efficiency by practicing proper running form.
Of course, there’s an “incline limit” to our ability to stay tall when running up particularly steep hills. At a certain point, we can’t remain tall due to things like ankle range of motion, strength, and balance. That being said, staying as tall as possible always reaps tremendous advantages.
When running uphill, stay tall–just like we do on flat ground. I often say, “hips into the hill” to help runners focus on driving the hips forward and avoiding bending over at the hips. It takes a lot of focus, but practice makes perfect!
Try this exercise out once a week during a training run to improve your overall running performance:
In general, we advise people to run with a cadence of around 90 steps per minute (spm). This helps repair many running form issues such as over-striding, a funky arm swing, over-rotating your torso, and more.
Side note: If you’re considerably taller or shorter than average, you might be a bit above or below 90spm. Furthermore, beginner runners shouldn’t worry about hitting the target the cadence target right off the bat. Give yourself time and practice to craft your cadence!
The main goal with optimal cadence during hill running is maintaining 90spm. Since our stride length decreases due to slower speeds when we run up hills, 90spm will feel considerably faster than running on even terrain. We have to willingly adopt a shorter stride while running uphill.
Test your stride cadence with this exercise. Over-stride your way up a moderate hill. Literally bound on up with the longest steps you can take! You won’t be able to do it for long because it’s overwhelmingly tiring.
If we keep the cadence as high as we do on flat surfaces, we can maintain a more efficient rhythm not only for the hill sections, but for the entirety of the run.
Put this hill workout into your running schedule to train yourself on how to maintain the right cadence in your stride:
Pro tip: A metronome is a useful tool that helps you establish an optimal running cadence. Check out the MetroTimer app to use during your next run.
One thing that comes to mind when talking about hill running is lifted calves. While it’s not completely avoidable, we can definitely make improvements!
When running uphill, we generally need to employ a greater range of motion in our ankles than we do on flat ground. If we lack this range of motion–called dorsiflexion–we are forced to run on our toes.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a test–you’re standing while reading this, right? Push up onto your toes for the rest of the article. Which muscles are working hard to keep you up there? That’s right, you feel the burn in your calves. If you run like this consistently, you’ll end up with strained or injured calves–and might wake up in the middle of the night to painful “charlie horses!”
To reduce the strain on your calves, make sure your heels lightly kiss the ground with every step. The “heel-kiss” saves your calves in your stride and prevents the unpleasant calf meltdown catastrophe.
Worried about heel striking? As the hill gets steeper, the likelihood of overstriding and heel striking will lessen. Go ahead, try it out.
Of course, there’s a spectrum of relaxation. We shouldn’t feel loosey-goosey in our ankles. However, allow a bit more slack in your ankles–your lower legs will thank you! Remember: We are aiming for a slight heel kiss.
Incorporate this drill into your running plan to practice staying off your toes and protecting your calves.
Note: If you have stiff ankles, this drill may be difficult. However, that signals a red flag that your ankles need some mobility work.
Are you ready to get the most out of every run? Check out TRE’s Run Fitness Formula designed for runners of every level. You’ll discover a robust toolkit full of strength exercises, mobility activities, running techniques, and more!