Hill Running Form and Technique
Nothing strikes fear in the heart of so many runners, walkers, and athletes as hills do. They are hard, but never have I met a hill that hasn’t made me a stronger and more prepared runner. Running hills is a fine art and takes practice, but with practice comes the difference between struggling up a hill with bad form and attacking hills with ease and passing your competition.
A hill workout is great because it’s both a strengthening and fitness drill, yet doesn’t take hours out of your day to complete. You can expect to reap the following benefits from frequent hill running: developing power and muscle elasticity, speed, increased strength in legs, arms, and core, as well as improved stride frequency and length (which reinforces proper running form) and more confidence for tackling future hills in other runs. To gain these benefits, run for the hills at least once per week (check out my past blog on speed training for hill workouts), and embrace the soreness. Your muscles will be eccentric (lengthening) much more on the downhill than when running on a flat surface. Follow the below cues to refine your efficiency both as you head up and down the hills.
- First and foremost, work with the hill. Aim to keep your effort the same and make small adjustments with your form to compensate for the incline.
- Shorten your stride and take quicker steps (just like proper running form). Depending on the severity of the hill, either land on more of your mid-foot or the ball of your foot.
- Stand up tall. One of the worst things you can do is bend forward at the waist and chase your head up the hill. Lift through the crown of your head and keep your chest lifted forward.
- Chin down, just slightly. Fix your eyes at an angle rather than down at your feet or looking up towards the top of the hill (ugh am I there yet?) This will keep your upper body in alignment and relieve tension in the neck, shoulders, and back.
- Lean Forward. Don’t let this phrase fool you by bending over. Lean forward from the ankles, while still keeping a neutral spine. For tips on how to lean forward from the ankles check out this blog. Emphasize ankle flicking going up, rather than exploding up the hill, which can cause over striding.
- Relaxed arms and hands. Keep your arms close to your body, swinging them from the hip to the chin, not across your body. Try to keep the hands open and relaxed, no tight fists. Picture yourself holding chips in your hands and you don’t want to crunch them into little pieces. Your arms are the driving force, once your legs get tired, so don’t be afraid to over-accentuate the arm swing.
- Don’t be afraid to walk. I know this sounds silly, since you are a runner. But sometimes it’s more efficient to save your energy in races by walking up the hills, keeping good form, and taking smaller steps. This becomes especially important in trail running and ultra-marathons.
- First of all congratulations on making it to the top of the hill, but this is where you need to reel in the effort , so you don’t hurt yourself by falling or injuring yourself. Stay in control to become an efficient downhill runner.
- Don’t over-stride This is even more important than over striding on the uphill climb and will take concentration on your part because gravity wants to push you forward. Aim on landing underneath your body. Also shorten your arm swing to aid in shortening your stride.
- Land lightly. People should not hear your stomping down the hill. Step lightly, keeping your feet as close to the ground as possible.
- Lean slightly forward. Yes you are fighting gravity, but don’t lean back like you are riding a horse. This can cause back pain and throws your form off balance. Lean slightly forward, tucking the chin down.
- Pelvis tucked. The best way to explain this is to slightly tuck the tailbone underneath your body to avoid over-arching the back (which is bad for the back and hip flexors).
- Weave down. To take some pressure off the front of your knees and to help control your body on the downhill. Weave from one side of the road or trail to the other side, like you are skiing.
Once you master proper running form and learn to embrace the challenge they provide (this will take practice!), I can guarantee you’ll be a stronger and better runner. Now get out there and tackle those hills!
About the Author: Erin Nielsen is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and ambassador for SKORA Running with a Master’s Degree in Health Promotion. When not writing for Born to Run, Erin is most likely running, reading, or helping others become healthier individuals. Current Shoe Rotation: SKORA Base, Form, Phase, & Core and Vivobarefoot Jing Jing.
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