One of the hardest parts of running is running uphill. While you can simply try to avoid the hilly routes, this type of training will help you in the long run. Uphill training makes you stronger and fitter, massively improving your overall ability as an athlete. On top of this, many running experts recommend hills for athletes who are training to increase their speed/pace.
So, how can you go about making uphill training a little bit easier for yourself? There are a number of ways to prepare your body for hill training. In this article, we will discuss the benefits of hill repeats, strength training, and longer runs.
Do Hill Repeats
One of the easiest ways in which you can train your body for uphill running is by doing hill repeats. If you consider yourself a serious runner and want to improve your pacing abilities, you should definitely head to the hills.
A lot of running races incorporate hills in order to test the ability of the runners. For this reason, by running routes that have a few uphills in training, you will be preparing your body for the exertion that comes with running uphill.
Most running experts recommend that athletes incorporate at least two harder sessions into their training program every week. If you would like to see dramatic improvements in your uphill running ability, make sure that one of these harder sessions includes hill repeats. With that being said, do not do more than one hill session a week, as this can lead to a number of injuries.
If you are just starting out, find a longer hill and do 2-3 slower hill repeats. This will help your body adjust to the gradient. During this period, you should also focus on your running form. Running uphill is a great way to improve your overall form, as it teaches you to lift your hands higher and drive your knees forward. Continue with these slower hill repeats for roughly 1-2 months.
When you are fitter and stronger, you can slowly start increasing the number of reps in each session. More so, try running the hills faster if you wish to improve your overall pacing. It is important to remember that just the uphill section should be hard – in other words, remember to keep the downhill section easy in order to preserve your energy.
As you get fitter, you can also look for a short hill and do some uphill sprints. This will make a massive difference to your overall fitness and strength. After just a few months, you should notice that it becomes much easier to run uphill on your longer, easy sessions.
Incorporate Strength Training
When it comes to running uphill, strength is of utmost importance. When running, your muscles are activated in different ways, pushing you forward with every step taken.
However, when running uphill, even more of the muscles in your legs are activated. This means that you will be working much harder. In order to make uphill running a little easier for yourself, it is highly recommended that you incorporate some strength training into your weekly schedule.
Many running experts suggest plyometrics. In short, this is a type of exercise that uses both speed and force to build muscle. Plyometrics includes a wide range of exercises, including box jumps, kicking, throwing, etc.
After just a few weeks of plyometrics, you should notice a massive difference in the amount of power in your legs. In fact, when running uphill, you should be able to push harder and for a longer period of time.
There are a number of additional strength training exercises that can be added to your routine. Some of the best runners in the world complete between 2-4 strength and conditioning sessions every week. These sessions include weight training and a number of bodyweight exercises.
Some of the most commonly performed strength exercises for runners include push-ups, lunges, squats, hamstring curls, step-ups, deadlifts, etc. It is also important that you do not neglect your arm or stomach muscles. Contrary to popular belief, your core and arms are very important when it comes to propelling yourself up a hill.
While strength training can massively improve your ability to run up hills, it also comes with several additional benefits. For starters, the increase in muscle mass drastically reduces your chances of developing certain injuries. If you are going to be adding hill repeats to your training routine, it is highly recommended that you start with strength training as well.
Add Some Longer Runs To Your Training Schedule
As we have already mentioned, strength is very important when it comes to uphill running. However, there are a number of ways in which you can get stronger – this does not mean that you have to spend hours in the gym every week.
All running experts recommend that athletes incorporate at least one long run into their training routine. Longer runs drastically increase your endurance and muscular capabilities. After about a month of increased mileage, your leg muscles and the connective tissues will strengthen dramatically. Again, this will reduce your chances of developing serious injuries.
It is important to note that long runs should be easy. In other words, ensure that you do not push too hard, as this can cause your muscles more harm than good.
Longer runs are also a great way to lose any extra weight that you may be carrying. When it comes to improving your overall running efficiency, the lighter you are, the better. The less weight you have to carry when running uphill, the easier it will feel.
Long runs also have a massive impact on your heart strength. By incorporating at least one long run into your weekly training, you will achieve a larger stroke volume and lower resting heart rate. This will make it much easier to push the body for a longer period of time. Make sure you have the right running shoes when you’re going long distance to help prevent injury.
Do Some Hill Strides
Hill strides are a plyometric exercise that professional runners do to increase strength and fitness. When done correctly, this exercise can have a number of benefits on your overall running ability.
As we have already mentioned, increasing your muscle strength is of utmost importance when it comes to uphill running. You use a variety of muscles when running uphill, making it essential that you train your muscles to handle this additional exertion.
Hill strides are very simple. First of all, you will need to find a hill of a reasonable gradient. Make sure that it is not steeper than 5%. You will start with both your feet together. Then, lift one knee upwards towards your chest and, at the same time, push your body forwards. As soon as you land, lift the other knee towards your chest and repeat the same process.
When you first start adding hill strides to your routine, it is very important that you do not go overboard. Your knees and other joints will be put under a lot of pressure at first, making it essential that you slowly grow into it.
For starters, try completing 3 sets of 10 hill strides. As you feel yourself growing stronger and fitter, you can slowly start increasing the number of reps. You should start seeing a number of improvements within just a few weeks. Many running experts recommend that athletes incorporate hill strides as a warmup before every hill session.
Improve Your Running Form
When it comes to improving your running ability, you should pay close attention to form. By improving your running style, you will become more efficient up the hills, making it much easier on your body.
If you have ever watched professional runners, you will notice that their form looks incredibly relaxed. In order to move forward with as much power as possible, ensure that you lean forward when running up the hill. More so, learn to relax your body in order to waste as little energy as possible.
When running, focus on lifting your arms up towards your chin. In fact, experts describe this motion as pulling yourself up the hill using a rope. Keep your head focussed forward and your shoulders straight.
Arguably the most important part of running is the knee drive. When running uphill, you should try to adopt the form of a sprinter. In other words, the higher you lift your knees, the easier it will feel.
Benefits Of Running Hills
As briefly touched upon above, some of the benefits you will reap from uphill running are:
- Improves your running endurance and VO2 Max
- Helps you lose weight and maintain a proper body weight
- Builds your leg muscles and increases speed over time
- Improves your overall cardiovascular endurance
- Helps with race preparation
To put simply, running up hills will make you both a stronger and a faster runner.
There are a number of ways in which you can make running uphill a little easier for yourself. For starters, try incorporating one hill repeat session into your training routine every week. If you have a GPS watch that measures your elevation profile then you’ll have a good reference to go back to in order to see your progress every week.
You should also include some strength and conditioning training. Hill strides and other plyometric exercises are a great way of improving muscular strength. Another way in which you can improve your overall running efficiency is by focussing on your form. Try to adopt the running style of a sprinter by driving your knees forward and lifting your hands towards your chin.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is to take a holistic approach to fitness and health.