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

Hills.

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!