24 February 2015

Hill training doesn't have to be dreadful

Many runners dislike hills, with one avid hill-hater describing hill-running as a “muscle-sapping, lung-bursting exercise in pain” but, it doesn't have to be. The Sports Science Institute tells us how to approach hills.


In reality, running hills is an acquired skill; the more you practice, the better you get, up to a point. It’s also a process of convincing your mind that hills actually aren’t so bad; mere challenges that you can tackle!

Running uphill

These are some of the major benefits of running uphill:

- It builds leg strength.
- Improves speed since the same muscles that you use for speed are strengthened in hill-training.
- Quickens your stride.
- Strengthens the muscles around your knees.
- Strengthens ligaments and tendons
- Reduces the risk of injury to knee and other areas, due to increased strength as well as improved running form.
- Promotes cardiovascular fitness.
- Improves your running economy (i.e. less energy consumed when running).
- Changes the recruitment patterns of muscles used in running, which is really beneficial especially on a longish run. On the contrary, when running on a monotonous flat course, the recruitment patterns don’t change, which means that leg muscles may tire more quickly.

Whilst isolated exercises using individual joints and small sets of muscles can improve your strength, running uphill can be far more effective in that you are, in a sense, forcing your hips, legs, ankles and feet to work together in a coordinated fashion, whilst carrying your full body weight.

If you have a calf or an achilles tendon injury, you will need to take care on hills.

Tips for running uphill:

1.    Lean forward slightly i.e. lean into the hill.
2.    Keep your face, neck and shoulders relaxed.
3.    If your legs are feeling tired, pump your arms with each step.
4.    Shorten your stride –take baby-steps if necessary, especially if the hill is long and you are feeling breathless.
5.    Try to maintain the same effort throughout your run whether running on the flat or hills – just adjust your pace accordingly.
6.    On steeper hills, lift your knees slightly higher and push off hard with every step.

As a newish runner, your best way to learn about running uphill, is to run on undulating courses, where hills form a natural part of the route and preferably choose attractive routes as we do with our forest and “away from base” runs in OptiFit.

Within a few weeks, you’ll see that the more you run hills, the more you'll find yourself adjusting to them automatically with your stride shifting to "hill mode" without any thought or effort.

Running downhill

Many runners make the mistake of either running downhill with complete abandon i.e. much too fast, which causes severe muscle soreness later, or they’re so careful that they’re constantly braking, which fatigues the quadriceps (front thigh) muscles. The key to efficient downhill running, is to stay in control and to run at a pace that is moderate.

Tips for running downhill:

1.    Don’t let your feet slap on the ground, but rather step lightly.
2.    Try to maintain a relatively upright body posture.
3.    Keep your feet close to the ground for maximum control, and land lightly.
4.    Stride length might be slightly longer, but rather emphasise quicker “turnover” or cadence of your feet. Not only does this help reduce the pounding on your legs, but it also helps you increase your stride frequency.
If you start to feel out of control when running downhill, shorten your stride until you feel you are back in control again.

Read more:

Hill training for the Two Oceans

Trail running 101

Your running kit and shoes - get it right!




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