Proper Hill Running Form

(Hills be Damned)

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of……

a)      Music

b)      Runners huffing and puffing

c)      Both of the above

The correct answer is “c”, both of the above.   We’re no competition for Maria.  So, we’ll stick to “b”.

Many readers who are training for an October or November race will be in the Strengthening Phase of their training plan, which should include hill workouts.

Hill running – both uphill and downhill – provide numerous physical and psychological benefits.

Without going into a lot of physiological detail, your legs work much harder running uphill than running on level ground.  Running uphill on a regular basis will:

  1. Strengthen your major leg muscles, particularly quadriceps, hip flexors, calves and glutes.  These strength gains translate into increases in both stride length and stride frequency (turnover).   Running speed is a function of both stride length and stride frequency.  Therefore, increases in both of these variables will significantly boost you running speed on level ground.
  2. Improve your VO2 max, the maximum capacity of your body to transport and utilize oxygen.
  3. Increase resistance to lower limb muscle fatigue, resulting in less slowing during the latter stages of a race.
  4. Give you a distinct psychological edge over other runners on a hilly race course.  Rather than approaching hills with trepidation, you’ll attack them with confidence.  Armed with your new mental attitude towards hills……….bring ’em on!!

What goes up must come down.  Uphill courses usually have downhill sections.  The legs endure an increased pounding during downhill running, which may result in muscle soreness 24-48 hours afterwards.  Fortunately, research shows that practicing downhill running on a regular basis make the legs more resistant to the fatigue and muscle soreness caused by downhill running.

Uphill Running Form

The clearest description of proper hill running form that I found comes from Roy Stevenson, veteran running coach and contributor to numerous running publications: “To maintain your centre of gravity over the drive leg, you need to shorten your stride slightly.  Exaggerate your forward lean by bending at the waist to direct force up the hill, and bring you hands and arms up high (even as high as your ears), as if you were pulling yourself up.  Different gradients require different technique modifications.  The steeper the hill, the more you’ll need to lean in to it and drive more powerfully with your arms.  Run with exaggerated knee lifts and push off hard with your ankles from your toes.  Knee lifts should be more exaggerated on steeper hills.  On slight inclines run with a shorter faster stride.  Breath deeper when you run uphill.”

Downhill Running Technique

Stevenson: “You need an aggressive attitude.  Tilt forward at the waist (note: many runners do the opposite, leaning back and braking).  Your forward lean will depend on the downward angle of the hill.  Keep your centre of gravity low and over your feet.  Tilt your pelvis upwards and let your upper body ride quietly on your pelvis.  This is similar to the action in downhill skiing, so visualize this when running downhill.  For mild to moderate downhill sections, you can lean forward so that your upper body is perpendicular to the ground.  You’ll be surprised how much stress this forward lean takes off your lower back.  You’ll need to increase your stride length and leg tempo and use your arms for balance.  Freewheel or flow down the hill with gravity, rather than braking.”

Many runners avoid hills altogether or approach them with anxiety and fear.  Embracing hill training on a regular basis will yield both physiological and psychological benefits, resulting in faster race times……………and unlike the movie, no need to get dirty sabotaging vehicles.

© 2012 Savvy Runner Inc.

We welcome your feedback, suggestions and comments.  Please post them below.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE, BLOG, WEBSITE OR PUBLICATION, you can – as long as you include: “Bennett Cohen (The Savvy Runner) and Gail Gould are the Founders and Presidents of the International Association of Women Runners.  To learn more about this global community of women runners, visit



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