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3 Training Tips for Hill Running

posted by
Cain Leathers

training tips for hills

Cain Leathers
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Cain Leathers

1. Maintain good posture

The most common difficulty with hill running is having poor posture, particularly in the hips. As the slope of a hill steepens, so does our forward lean. We’re naturally inclined to overcompensate by bending at the waist, as if we were reaching for something on the floor. Bending over like this creates harmful, unnecessary stress on our lower backs. It also becomes more difficult for us to maintain full hip extension, robbing each stride of power and efficiency. Now that you’re aware, let’s protect our lower backs and improve stride efficiency by practicing proper running form. 

Of course, there’s an “incline limit” to our ability to stay tall when running up particularly steep hills. At a certain point, we can’t remain tall due to things like ankle range of motion, strength, and balance. That being said, staying as tall as possible always reaps tremendous reward. When running uphill, stay tall, just like we do on flat ground. Think of saying “hips into the hill” to help remind you to focus on driving the hips forward and avoiding bending over at the hips. It takes a lot of focus, but practice makes perfect!

2. Quick steps

In general, the most optimal cadence for running hills is around 90 steps per minute (spm). This helps fix many running form issues such as over-striding, a funky arm swing, over-rotating your torso, etc. If you’re considerably taller or shorter than average, you might be a bit above or below 90spm. Additionally, beginner runners shouldn’t worry about hitting this target cadence right off the bat.

The main goal with optimal cadence during hill running is maintaining 90spm. Since our stride length decreases due to slower speeds when we run up hills, 90spm will feel considerably faster than running on even terrain. We have to willingly adopt a shorter stride while running uphill.

A great way to test out your stride cadence: Over-stride your way up a moderate hill. Literally use the longest steps you can take! You won’t be able to do it for long because it’s overwhelmingly tiring. If we keep the cadence as high as we do on flat surfaces, we can maintain a more efficient rhythm not only for the hill sections, but for the entirety of the run.

3. Relax your ankles

When running uphill, we generally need to employ a greater range of motion in our ankles than we do on flat ground. If we lack this range of motion, we are forced to run on our toes. One thing that comes to mind when talking about hill running is lifted calves. While it’s not completely avoidable, we can definitely make improvements! 

Here’s an easy test: Try standing while you read this. Push up onto your toes for the rest of the newsletter. Which muscles are working hard to keep you up there? That’s right, you feel the burn in your calves. If you run like this consistently, you’ll end up with strained or injured calves, and might wake up in the middle of the night to muscle discomfort.

To reduce the strain on your calves, make sure your heels lightly kiss the ground with every step. This heel kiss saves your calves in your stride and prevents the unpleasant calf meltdown catastrophe. Worried about heel striking? As the hill gets steeper, the likelihood of overstriding and heel striking will lessen. Try it out! You should still work on maintaining a bit of control when relaxing the ankles still. 

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training tips for hills