A blog by runners. For runners.

The art of running hills


Hills. Does any runner like them? I know I don’t. But here’s the thing about where I live – hills are a necessary evil. I train on them, I race on them, and honestly when I travel somewhere flat, I miss them. I’m a glutton for punishment I guess.

Still, hill running confuses me. I can never remember if I’m supposed to lean into the hill or away from it. So, I set out to learn the art of hill running.

The hills are alive… with benefits

There’s a reason why running hills hurts so much – it requires more effort and muscle power, which eventually makes you stronger and faster. Hill running serves as a type of interval workout. The uphill is the work interval and the downhill is the recovery period. Interval workouts are known for torching calories and fat.

What’s more, during hill runs, we utilize leg, arm, in core muscles in different ways than when we run on flat surfaces. This means that running hills may also keep you from getting injured, if you run them right.

Hill running: 101

To run the right way uphill, follow these tips:

  • Speed up using your arms. Increasing your arm-swing can take some of the pressure off your legs.
  • Press your hips into it. Don’t bend over into the hill. Instead, remind yourself to press your hips into the hill so you don’t bend.
  • Think high knees. Picking up your knees higher will increase your stride rate and protect your posture.
  • Push off with your toes. Pushing off using your toes will help lift you upward and propel you forward. 

On the downhill:

  • Don’t lean back. Lead with your hips and lean slightly forward into the hill working with gravity. Focusing on keeping good posture will stop you from leaning back.
  • Hit the ground mid-foot first. If you strike the ground heel-first on downhill, you may hurt your knees.
  • Keep your stride short and fast. Short, quick strides will help you control your pace better so you don’t face-plant down the hill.

Hilly workouts

Aim to add hill running to your training once each week. Try these workouts:

  • Hill repeats. Find a hill that’s about 200-400 yards long and run up and down it a handful of times. Work up to 8 repeats. This workout will build strength and stamina.
  • A hilly route. Find a hilly route nearby. Regularly going up and downhill during training runs will help set you up for race day success if the race route is filled with inclines.
  • Treadmill inclines. No hilly terrain where you live? Instead of running outdoors, step on the treadmill and crank up the incline to mimic the experience of running on hills. Either do hill intervals – for example, turn the incline up to 5 or 6 for a minute, back down again, and repeat – or do a steady climb – increase the incline by one every few minutes until you can’t go any higher.

Do you regularly run hills?

Written by Jen Matz.