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Why Hills Will Make You a Better Runner

breathing effort levels goals and plans Nov 01, 2021

If you want to get stronger as a runner, you may want to head to the hills. Sure, they can be intimidating and painful, but running up hills can build your strength as a runner in a way that nothing else can.


Running up hills strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. It’s like resistance training for running, or adding weights to your squats. Running by itself is good, sure. But running with resistance? That takes your running up to a whole new level.


The benefits


So, what exactly are the advantages of hill running?


Let’s start with confidence and mental toughness. Sprinting up a hill makes you feel strong. And, after you’ve done it a few times, it usually starts to feel a little easier. That gives you more confidence, so when you face a hill in a race, it’s no longer scary but just another obstacle you are fully equipped to conquer.  


It also helps improve your running form. In addition to muscle strength, you increase joint mobility, and tendon and ligament elasticity.


And don’t forget the benefits to running economy, or the body’s efficiency in using oxygen. Research has found that training on hills improves VO2 max, heart rate and race performance.


There are also speed benefits. According to Jack Daniels, author of “Daniels’ Running Formula,” your mile pace slows by 12 to 15 seconds when going uphill. By incorporating hill workouts into your training, you can reduce that slowdown. In fact, studies have found that runners are 2 percent faster on average in 5K races when they incorporate hill running into their workouts for at least six weeks.


Plus, when you run hills instead of doing speed work on a track, you reduce your injury risk. That’s because the slope shortens the distance for landing, meaning less impact.


Tips for hill training


Tackling hills requires practice, but there are some guidelines that can help:


  • Shorten your stride (a.k.a. slow down a bit).

During a race, you can’t expect to tackle a hill at the same pace you run a flat surface. If you do, you’ll leave yourself exhausted later on. Slow your steps a bit and work on matching your effort to your pre-hill exertion rate.


  • Check your breathing.

Your breathing shouldn’t increase too much when running uphill. If it does, it means you’re running too fast and need to slow down. The trick is to focus on maintaining the same effort and breathing level throughout.


  • Pay attention to your posture.

Keeping your head, shoulders and neck straight and aligned is more important than ever when running uphill. Good posture will help you maintain your focus, as well as your effort and breathing levels.


  • Don’t forget the downhill.

On the way down, aim for something between a sprint and on-and-off braking—both of which can lead to heavy muscle soreness later on. Focus on stepping lightly and not reaching out with your feet.


Now get out there and run your life.


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