Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Have you ever found yourself planning your route so that you avoid all hills at all costs? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. But, during this time where Covid19 has made it impossible to access a gym, here’s a few good reasons to start embracing hills now!
You may have heard the saying “hills are speed work in disguise.” Why? They promote good form, add power, strength, and speed without as much exposure to injury. Don’t believe me? Keep reading…
As a coach I often get questions around proper form. Running uphill is a great way to practice good form that you can take to the flats. Running uphill, your foot naturally lands under your centre of mass rather than overstriking by having your foot way out in front of you. That would be nearly impossible to do. We also tend to take more steps running uphill so, for over-striders, this can help one increase their stride rate. And no one ever gained anything by restricting their oxygen intake by looking at their toes while running uphill. You need maximum oxygen intake while running uphill, so by looking 10-15 ft ahead, this will open up your diaphragm and airway.
It’s hard to reach your max heart rate while running unless you’re performing VO2 max tests every time you lace up (not recommended). Hill sprints help you get to your max heart rate much quicker than it would take to reach that on flat ground. This also helps with injury prevention: less impact to get the same result. The power comes from the effort it takes to turn your legs over while running uphill and fighting against gravity – the thing we love to hate on “hills night”.
Another thing I really try to impress as a coach is the importance of strength training. Runners will sometimes resist strength training for fear of bulking up; however, strength training for muscular endurance and injury prevention is key to a runner’s plan. Running uphill is like resistance training without the weights and access to a gym. Remember our friend gravity? Yes, this resistance is helping you to build that muscular endurance and strength.
By running fast uphill at 5-10k pace, you are essentially teaching your body to fight gravity. Throwing in a few fast efforts on steep grades will help you to run those speeds much easier on flat ground when you are not fighting gravity. Pick a hill that allows you to run at least 60-90s with a grade around 6-8% and throw in a few intervals on your next hills workout at fast race pace. Then try that same speed on flat ground a week later. I’m willing to bet it feels a bit easier.
How To Run Hills Properly
People tend to run hills backwards. And I don’t mean literally backwards – I mean they engage the wrong muscle groups to run up and down. How so? Runners tend to pull themselves up with their quads and then down with their glutes by sitting back in their stride and braking on the way down. This seems counterintuitive to gravity. Why not let gravity do the work on the other side of the climb and pull you down with little effort? It should be the reward for getting to the top of the hill to begin with. Further, why not let the strongest muscle in the body, the gluteus maximus (other than the tongue), do the hard work on the uphill?
Lean forward on the uphill and downhill from the ankles, not the waist. Look ahead, not down. And watch how your feet land under your body. It seems we have gone full circle back to form.
So, next time you see that hill, embrace it. It’s not as evil as it seems. I like to think of it as tough love. You’ll thank it one day. And maybe you'll even thank me if you read this post and have some gravitational pull/desire to go run some hills.