Hill running is a tough workout, and it’s not uncommon to get easily out of breath shortly after starting. Even avid athletes who train regularly feel the intensity hill workouts have to offer.
While hill running is no cakewalk, this type of workout has the benefits every athlete craves for both body and mind. First, it’s tough and you get the ultimate in cardio and aerobic performance, and if you’re short on time and looking to get in a great workout, says Adam Merry, Saucony athlete and running coach. And though the uphill ride is just tough, Merry explains that there’s a feeling of power and confidence once you get to the top.
The intense incline workout works the body from head to toe. Your quads, hamstrings and glutes all light up when you’re climbing hills, she says. Your calves also fire to help propel you up as you climb. And as with most running exercises, your core muscles are also in play, especially with the slight forward lean you need to efficiently run up hills.
With that, Merry breaks down the steps that will help you get the most out of your hill workouts and take your fitness to the next level.
Step-by-step instructions for uphill running
Pro tip: Merry suggests finding a hill on a trail. The scenery and varied terrain make it go by faster than running uphill on a road.
Starting from the beginning. You have to put your mind right. Running uphill is sometimes type 2, it’s fun in hindsight, she says. But I don’t think I’ve ever finished a climb or a workout without feeling accomplished!
Now that your scenery and mindset are perfect, Merry gives you her top tips to help you succeed on your next hill climb.
- Maintain good posture: Stand upright with a slight incline towards the hill, but avoid bending all the way at the waist. Think of it as a slight upper body lean while keeping your back straight and core engaged. This will keep the airways open and facilitate efficient oxygen intake.
- Engage your core: A strong, engaged core helps stabilize you as you climb.
- Gently swing your arms: Drive your arms back and forth (not along your body), matching the swing of your arms to your stride. Your arms should be at about a 90 degree angle. This will give you extra momentum. Make sure you find a good rhythm and keep your arm drive smooth.
- Shorten your stride: While climbing, focus on shortening your stride a bit instead of taking long strides. This technique is more energy efficient and reduces the strain on the muscles. This will also help you avoid rocks or roots if you’re running on a trail.
- Look ahead, not down: Keep your gaze focused straight ahead, not at your feet. This helps maintain good posture and balance.
- 6. Try to relax: Keeping your face, shoulders and upper body relaxed helps improve performance and is a good tailwind to not working beyond your capabilities! That doesn’t mean you don’t work hard, but it’s easy to overdo it when you’re running uphill and want to target the pace of your efforts so you can finish strong at the end!
The donts of hill running
Just like there are things you want to avoid doing in every exercise and sport, Merry shares some pretty important things you’ll want to avoid when hill training.
- Don’t start too quickly: There is nothing more painful than starting a climb too fast. It hurts much more. You usually have a slower tempo overall because you are eventually blowing up and mentally it can make you feel a little deflated because you were fading all along. Try to start conservatively and finish faster.
- Don’t skip the warm-up: A proper warm-up prepares your muscles for exercise and decreases the risk of injury. I like to do a few simple leg swings, a light quadriceps stretch, and two or three 15-second strides just to make sure everything works and warms up.
- Don’t Neglect Recovery: After hill workouts, your muscles need time to repair and adjust. If it’s an uphill workout and you put the work into it, Merry recommends a 3:1 carb/protein recovery shake.
- Don’t ignore the pain: While some muscle soreness is normal, sharp or persistent pain is not. Listen to your body and put it back together or end the run if needed. Paying attention to those queues early rather than pushing them further will help promote long-term growth and injury-free racing.
Hill training tips for beginners
Merry recommends starting with a smaller, less steep hill when you first start; a grade of three to four percent can be a great starting point. Initially, she considers a mix of walking and running (I walk uphill when it always gets rough/steep, that’s part of it!), Merry says. If you can’t run uphill at all to start, run up the hill at a brisk pace, then jog or downhill to recover. As your strength and fitness improve, Merry recommends starting the spray into 15-30 seconds of hill running mixed with equal or 2-3 times longer periods of hill walking (for example, 60-90 seconds).
Try the Merrys Hill running workout for beginners and advanced
- Warm-up: Start with a 10-15 minute run on flat ground
- Hill repeats: Find a moderate incline (3-4% incline) that takes about 60-90 seconds to climb. It’s also OK to pick a spot 60-90 seconds up a longer hill and turn around midway! Run at a challenging but sustainable pace with the goal of finishing faster than you started. Then jog or return to your starting point for recovery.
Repeat this 4-6 times. As your fitness improves, increase the number of repetitions.
- 4 uphill runs of 60 seconds with recovery on foot or downhill
- Recovery: Finish with a 10-minute jog or walk on easy terrain.
- Warm up two to three miles
- Five moderate/hard 3-minute climbs with a crumbling recovery
- Bonus: Two 5-minute timed runs on flat terrain with 2 minutes of rest in between right after the hills
- Recovery time two to three miles
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