Integrating Hills Into Your Running Program

July 4, 2018

By Ella Borgeaud (MPhysio, BSportCoach&ExerciseSc)


Want to run faster with better technique? Practice running hills.

Uphill and downhill running improves fitness, strength, speed and technique. These benefits can transfer to running on flat surfaces.

Uphill running:

Running uphill requires an explosive contraction of the hip, knee and ankle muscles.

Running uphill is essentially resistance training for these muscles, resulting in greater speed when running on flat surfaces.

Uphill running also promotes optimal running technique and posture. The incline promotes a midfoot foot-strike (instead of rear-foot), and allows you to lean into the hill from the ankles, rather than from the hips.

Finally, running uphill is more taxing on our cardiovascular system, and is associated with improvements in heart rate and running economy.


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Tips for running uphill:

  • Try to maintain your cadence (number of steps) to help with momentum
  • Take smaller steps to reduce how much your muscles must work to lift you up the incline
  • Emphasise your arm and knee swings to help propel yourself forwards
  • Lean slightly forwards from your ankles, not your hips
  • Look forward (not at your feet) to optimise posture


Downhill running:

The forces transmitted through our joints, bones and tendons are significantly higher when running downhill compared to running on flat ground. The most common error when running downhill is over-striding (landing on the heel of an outstretched leg). Over-striding is associated with increased braking forces, and amplifies the forces transmitted through the legs. These higher forces increase the risk of developing an overuse running injury.

The good news is that there are some simple technique changes we can make to reduce these negative effects.


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Tips for running downhill:

  • Take advantage of the ‘free’ speed, lean your trunk slightly forward and increase speed.
  • Take smaller, quicker steps to reduce the impact of each step. This will also help optimise foot placement under your body.
  • To speed up, lean your trunk slightly forwards.
  • To slow down, lean back slightly

Downhill running also promotes positive technique changes, such as higher cadences. Higher cadences optimise our foot placement, step length and loading. Integrating downhill running into your regular runs reinforces these positive technique changes to transfer into running on flat ground.

As with any training modification, the addition of hill running into your training program must be gradual, to allow for our muscles, tendons and cardiovascular adaptations to occur safely.

If you are new to running, managing a current injury, or wanting to improve your running technique, enquire about The SportsCare Running Lab services. These unique services are provided by Physiotherapists experienced in running biomechanics, running-specific injuries, and assessment of running technique. Services include one-on-one running assessments, 10-week group running courses, education sessions and load management education and planning.



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