Let’s Talk About Hills, Shall We?: 6 Tips For Effective Hill Running


Oh, hills.

photo credit: OBScurePIXels.com via photopin cc

photo credit: OBScurePIXels.com via photopin cc

How do you feel when you read or hear that word?  If you’re a runner you may have a strong reaction.  Do you love them?  Hate them?  A little bit of both?

Plenty of runners do hill repeats.  I’m not one of them yet.  I say yet, because I’m not against trying them and I likely will before too long. But for now, I’ve ignored that particular brand of glorious torture.

Now, this is not to say that I don’t run hills at all.  My neighborhood and running territory is fairly hilly.  Regardless of which direction I head out in, I am definitely running up and down at least one hill, often more, so while repeats aren’t in my current regimen, I am no stranger to inclines and declines.

As many runners may tell you, hills are an important part of running.  Not only can they provide an interesting twist on a standard run, but they provide unique and different ways to work specific muscle groups.  Also, being an effective hill runner can make all the difference in a race.  The ability to conquer hills most definitely adds to a competitive edge.

photo credit: Sam Ilić via photopin cc

photo credit: Sam Ilić via photopin cc

There are a couple of particular notes about hill running that I’d like to share based on my experience.  First, let’s talk about going uphill.  Often, I dislike going uphill.  But, I do appreciate it.  I appreciate what it does for my fitness level and my overall running performance.  I have learned a few simple tips that have helped me increase my speed and endurance as I head uphill that I include here.

Uphill Tips That Work For Me:

1)      Keep your head slightly tilted upward. 

I don’t mean to encourage anyone to crane or strain your neck here, but it can be tempting to look down and hunch over a bit when going up.  I had it pointed out to me in a helpful running book that a slight tilt in the chin/head will help keep breathing paths open while your lungs work a bit harder on the incline.  I tried it and noticed an immediate difference in my breathing.

2)      Strength train your UPPER body

I spend a decent amount of time strength training (more posts on this to come in the future).  For a while, I thought that lower body strength would help me up hills (which, is true), but I didn’t consider how much upper body strength would help, too.  I did work on my upper body because I wanted a toned, strong all over effect, but it was separate in my mind from having anything to do with my running.  Then, one day while going up a particularly steep hill, I noticed just how much the power in my arms and upper body, pumping and moving, was propelling me upward and onward.  I tuned in to my arms and the way the strength in my back and shoulders was urging my legs forward and I have never underestimated the power of strong arms, back and shoulders again.

3)      Shorten your stride

I try to be conscious most of the time about not taking strides that are too long to begin with, but it is especially important to me uphill.  Shorter strides equal quicker, less impactful, less strenuous movement up those hills, allowing me to feel less fatigued at the top and shave seconds off my time getting there.

For as much as I don’t enjoy going uphill, I so very much love going downhill.  I know that downhill running can be hard on the body, but I love it regardless.  It’s fun.  REALLY fun.  The feeling I get when I’m striding downwards, like I’m floating across the pavement is one of the greatest feelings I know.  It’s joyous and incredibly freeing to me.  Here are some ways in which I try to enjoy this wonderful feeling, while still being effective and efficient along the way.

Downhill Tips That Work For Me:

1)      Be mindful of your landing. 

When you’re really cruising downhill, it can be hard on your legs.  Running puts plenty of impact on your knees, feet, and ankles as is, but the extra impact when running downhill can really do a number on some folks.  Try to tune in to how your feet are striking the ground as you descend.  A quick step and pick-up, letting the balls of your feet (as lightly as possible) make contact and rapidly kick back up again will help minimize impact and make for quick work of those downhill miles.

2)      Lean into it – but don’t overdo it

You’re running at an angle, so it makes sense to have your body at an angle, too, but you want to be careful not to lean too far forward.  A slight lean has helped me work with gravity to move quickly and efficiently, but maintaining control is important, as well.  The last thing you want is to feel like you are careening (not striding) down the hill.  So, you may be going fast and enjoying the speed, but don’t forget about body alignment.

3)      Strengthen your core

A strong core is a great asset for runners for a variety of reasons and an important one has to do with #2, listed right above.  Being able to control your body when gravity is pulling it down is vital in preventing falls, injuries, and running chaos.  A well developed abdominal core provides me with the strength to keep my body upright when the forces of nature urge it to topple forward.  Planks, crunches, standing abdominal twists, supermans, all of those types of moves and more are valuable tools for you in this regard.

If you have key running tips for hills, please feel free to share them in the comments below.  Or, you know, just feel free to moan about or rejoice in the wonders of hill running!

39 comments on “Let’s Talk About Hills, Shall We?: 6 Tips For Effective Hill Running

  1. Mileage Mama says:

    Great tips! Just ran a hilly 5K today, and I was proud of how I handled the hills. I have been doing hill repeats and also trying to incorporate hillier routes on my longer runs. I’ll be running the Flying Pig marathon in May … trying to be ready for the hills down there!

  2. Becca Rose says:

    Great advice! Thanks for the easy read 🙂

    P.S. I hate running…

  3. colossalgarbage says:

    I agree. Running downhill is very exhilarating. Downhill. Uphill. It’s like yin-yang!

  4. Thanks for the tips! I’m a treadmill running, but am participating in a series of four races this spring, ranging from a 5k to a half-marathon. I’m a bit nervous because there are hills on the courses. I’ll definitely use these tips in my training and on race days!

  5. sk says:

    As a runner in Pittsburgh, I am no stranger to hills! (We have a lot of them here) It totally aligns with what you said here about core and upper body training, but I personally cannot believe how much my running has improved since I started taking pilates a year or so ago. I used to have pretty bad hip pain when I ran, and its completely gone now. Lots of total body strengthening, but also I think the increased focus on flexibility has helped. Great post!

    • Thanks! I am so glad that you’ve found something to help with your hip pain. I haven’t given much time to pilates yet, but I have noticed huge benefits from supplementing my running with yoga.

  6. msokane says:

    What a great post! Hills are something I have to seek out seeing as I live on a flat delta. But when I do run hills, my tactics are more mental than physical. As I start running up the hill, I tell myself, “You can walk whenever you like, but try and run as far as that signpost up ahead” and when I get to that signpost, I keep running and say, “Good for you girl, now remember you can walk whenever you like, but not until you reach that next lamppost”. Another mental tactic I use is to divide the hill into sections, because hills are rarely straight up with no variation to the incline, and I tackle the hill section by section, giving myself mental praise after each section. And while I’m running up a hill, I remind myself about the reward waiting at the top which is flatness or downhill. And what a reward for running uphill running downhill is! Yipee!

  7. Good tips! I have hills all through my neighborhood. I love them and hate them. The last two halves I’ve run have been hilly. I pretty used to them now. A friend once told me “Hills are only bad half the time.” . I really like that saying.

  8. Good advice! I am not a hill runner lover. (yet). The word still scares me. I’ll have to get over it eventually… one day. 🙂

  9. Janice says:

    Thank you for the tips! I am going to give them a try, especially the uphill. I agree with you, I really do not like running up hills, but I do appreciate them. I also appreciate making it to the top of each hill. Something inside just loves conquering the hill.

  10. Tania_tc says:

    My next race is extremely hilly and I live on a pancake! Need to throw more hill training into my program. I actually love running hills, gives a great sense of achievement. Great post!

  11. eehbahmum says:

    Running on the flat is boring, hills are the best part of any run. One of my best friends is the hill in the middle of my big run, he’s steep and mean and lots of fun.

  12. Is it bad that I call ‘hill running’ ‘hell running’? 😉

  13. Andrea says:

    Great tips! I always find myself leaning backwards and shortening my stride when I run downhill, especially on a steep hill. Maybe I should try your tip of leaning forward next time. I actually don’t mind running hills. I don’t get too many here in Indiana, but one of my favorite trails has a big hill on it. I love the feeling when I get to the top. It’s so rewarding.

  14. Red Hen says:

    I a two and half mile hill which I usually run once a week.One of my proudest running moments came when i ran up that hill twice. Only did it once ever though! Great post! Thanks!

  15. Great post – your tips for downhill are very helpful, it seems the focus is on uphill (the hardest), but running with control is key as you mention to successful downhill running (the temptation is to just let loose going downhill but this is not a good idea 🙂 ). I use hills in my training plan as the alternative to track speed workouts. Track workouts aggravate my knees given the stress when running in circles. I will do between three to five (long hills) for training, but I do walk down as a recovery. Thanks!

  16. Cindy says:

    Great tip ! I’m all for doing hills, down hill is the reward 😀

  17. I’m signed up for a very hilly 1/2 in April (i.e. my imminent death) so this came at a great point in my training. I would have never thought that upper body strength could help me up those hills, but it makes perfect sense. I’m bookmarking this page. Thank you!!

  18. love this post! thank you for the great advice, I’ll be using this for my run today!

  19. I keep trying to talk myself into running, so I’m intrigued by your tips and your blog. Thanks for visiting me and inspiring me to visit you and maybe, just maybe I’ll try running again!

    • You’re welcome and thank you for commenting! I never, ever would have thought I’d become a runner, but it’s been a wonderful experience! I know it’s not for everyone, but if you do give it a try, feel free to stop by and chat about it anytime. 🙂

  20. […] Let’s Talk About Hills, Shall We?: 6 Tips for Effective Hill Running :  I still remind myself of and practice these tips often! […]

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