Running Technique (2): making hills easy

Yes, hills are sometimes hard, and hard for a good reason. To travel vertical distance for a body is actually the hardest thing, that takes up to 80% of all running energy expenditure. And if you find it hard to adopt your running form in uphill sections of your run – I truly believe (and know) that a casual training run can easily become real sufferfest.

A few things you can do to make hills easier!

[This text was recorded on a hilly run in order to keep this advice practical and real]

Shorten you stride (but increase the rate). This advice will teach you some basic physics – I am talking about the length of the lever arm. Here is an example to understand this point. Put a box in front of you. First, try to step on a box from a distance, and then walk close to the box and do it again. The difference is obvious! When running uphill - stay “compact” and put your foot close to your center of mass. This will save lots of energy and biomechanically is more efficient.

Don’t let your heel go to low. This is the best time to be a forefoot or midfoot striker. Keep your ankles and calf active, and don’t let you heel to go too low – this will help to save some energy (otherwise used to pick your heel from the ground with each step) and will put less strain on the ankle joint.

Lean forward. Running uphill you should lean slightly forward. Now it is very important point, it has to be a full body lean (“from your ankles”), not just a bend from your hips. A few more tips about correct running posture HERE

Reduce your running pace. If you want to maintain an overall exercise intensity at a similar physical exertion level, then you have to reduce you pace in the uphill sections. If you are one of those runners that worry about how bad overall pace will look on Strava, you should know that total vertical ascent (i.e. how much you climb in one session) is a completely legit way to describe running session’s difficulty. Also check GAP (aka. grade ajusted pace) on Strava, which is an overall pace taken into account all hills and downhills.

Use your arms. Arm motion during uphill running can actually help you. Using powerful arm swing we help to stabilise core (remember, all muscles in our body are related and form kinetic chains), which in turn can help to achieve more powerful contraction of “uphill running muscles” and improve your uphill stride.

Use track knowledge. Pacing is an integral part of running. Some hills are as short as 50 meters, but others might take an hour to run (or hike). Knowing the track can help to make informed decisions and pace yourself correctly through difficult and challenging hilly sections. This becomes even more important in road/trail running events. Study race elevation profiles and if you have a chance – familiarise with race course during your training.

Be an optimist. The beautiful thing about uphills is that the higher you go, the more you see. Don’t be a pessimist.

Smile. When you smile, you relax,  and when you relax – you relaxthose body parts that need to be relaxed. Don't be afraid to smile running alone. People think that you are crazy enough just because you are running those hills.