Though running hills can be painful, they ultimately make you a better runner. Even if you are training for a race with a completely flat course — or a net downhill elevation profile — adding hills into your training routine will make your race that much easier (and you that much faster). That reason alone is enough of a draw for many runners, but hills will provide you with so much more, too.
“Hills develop what we call ‘running economy,’ while also fine-tuning leg speed, running biomechanics, prevent injuries and provide an enormous aerobic boost for the runner,” explains Dave Ames, owner and founder of Ame For It Run Coaching, a worldwide run coaching service offering online and in-person training for runners of all abilities. “It’s the complete package in one workout and [is actually] ‘speedwork in disguise.’ I like to include them in the beginning of a training cycle, no matter what the distance the athlete is training for, because they get the runner strong before they get the runner fast.”
By running hills you are gaining so much from just one workout and the good news is you don’t have to do them every week to reap the benefits. Of course, the more you run them, the more development you will receive, but you also risk the chance of injury if you aren’t doing them right. That’s why, before you take to the hills, you must make sure you have the proper posture and understand why it matters.
THE PERFECT POSTURE FOR RUNNING UPHILL
When it comes to running uphill, you may find your body wants to slump forward, not only due to gravity but because you are working harder and expending more energy. However, it is important to fight this urge and start by running upright.
“This position gives you greater access to the trunk muscles that gently tip the pelvis from side-to-side like a seesaw returning elastic energy to the arch and spring ligaments in the feet; this allows everything to rebound reflexively, pushing you off the ground toward floating, flying and weightlessness,” notes Art Ives, owner and coach at The Way of Running, which offers one-on-one and group coaching as well as workshops and destination camps. “Harnessing your spring system allows you to achieve a greater loft or vertical elevation with every stride — by making it much easier to swing your legs upward and forward in a series of reciprocal, circular movements.”
Uphill posture is much like the posture you would use when running flat. You want to keep your arms positioned at 90 degrees and pump them forward, according to Ames. He adds that you should maintain “relaxation from the top of your head, all the way down to your feet. A relaxed runner is an efficient runner. Running too hard, or out of control, defeats the purpose of the workout.”
Though you don’t want to lean forward completely, once you have the proper posture, a bit of a forward lean can help you accelerate. According to Ames, this should be done in place of opening your stride or overstriding. By keeping your posture more upright you will also be able to keep your eyes straight ahead. This not only prevents neck and shoulder strain, but it also keeps you focused on the road right in front of you. It may be tempting to keep your eyes focused on the top of the hill, but Ames notes that it can easily mentally drain you.
READ MORE > 6 SIMPLE TIPS FOR RUNNING UPHILL STRONG
THE PERFECT POSTURE FOR RUNNING DOWNHILL
When you crest the hill and are starting to make your way down, you will need to change your posture so you are leaning a bit forward. Ives notes that it may feel uncomfortable and like you are losing control, however, by staying focused this won’t happen.
“Lean forward slightly from the ankles and use mid-foot landings directly under your hips,” he adds, “thus avoiding the all-too-common tendencies to lean back and heel strike, causing muscle pain in the quads and low back.”
If you feel that loss of control, try not to resist the pull of gravity too much. This can actually cause more pain and fatigue in your legs over time. If you’re in the middle of a race, you want your legs to stay as fresh as possible, even if you have a lot of climbing to do along the way.
“They key is to let the hill take you, but remain relaxed and fluid with your stride,” adds Ames. “Try to land lightly on your feet and prevent from over striding or ‘braking’ downhill. When you do that, your quads will take on the force far too much. Try to land level, be smooth, be relaxed and, most of all, be patient! Downhills are not the make or break in a race.”
Feel out the hill, adapt to the hill and be smooth
WHY POSTURE MATTERS
No matter what terrain you are running, your posture is the foundation of it all. It is common for your form to suffer as you get tired during a run, so staying aware and checking in on your form throughout your run can help you keep your energy up and reduce the risk of injury.
“The same goes for hills; if we run them incorrectly, we are doing more work against our own bodies,” confirms Ames. “We want to become one with the hill. Feel out the hill, adapt to the hill and be smooth. Follow the key tips above and you’ll cruise up them a lot easier than before! Sprinting or charging up a hill, completely out of control, will only cause you to become gassed much earlier in the workout.”
Understanding the proper hill-running posture and going into the workout — or hilly race — prepared will make you a stronger runner. More often than not, adding hills into your training plan benefits you. “Approached confidently, varying the terrain on which you train actually helps you become more efficient and reduces your chances of injury by breaking up the repetition of the same motions.” concludes Ives.