The Joy of Running Hills

runner hill

This post is prepared by West 4th Physiotherapy associate Suzanne Foster. Read on and enjoy!

Nothing brings me more joy during a run or race than seeing a huge hill ahead of me just waiting to be conquered. As someone who has run for 20 plus years, I have avoided speed work like the plague and will find any excuse not to do it! Thus I was pleased to find out that running hills could actually make me faster and could actually be considered a form of speed training  ( ), Runner’s World, May 2015). This is great news for the injury prone runner who would benefit from a hill workout that results in the same gains as a speed workout on a track: elevated heart rate translating into increased aerobic and anaerobic capacity, but with far less mechanical stress/fatigue on the ligaments, tendons, and muscles = faster recovery.
Remember, the muscles that you use for running hills are the same muscles that you use for sprinting: glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, gastroc/soleus complex. Hills increase your speed by building leg muscle strength which results in quickening and lengthening your stride further improving your speed, and all the while having a “protective effect” on your knees. More on that here:

Interesting to note, along with the fact that running hills will make you a stronger, faster and a more powerful runner, it has been shown that runners who incorporate hills into their routine are less likely to lose their fitness with a training break and that hills can actually improve the elasticity of their muscles, ligaments and tendons.

So next time you encounter a hill, be happy and remember to:
1) LOOK UP: Looking down can really compromise your form, breathing and alignment. Trust your feet to do their part
2) STAND TALL: Try to be as upright as much as the slope allows. Bending at the waist can constrict airflow and cause lower back pain. Think of leading from the hips- this will help keep your head, shoulders, pelvis, feet in line and core engaged
3) FAST FEET! Try to shorten your stride, LIGHT push off with toes
4) KNEES UP (hard to do if you are too bent over at the waist!)
5) ARM PUMP: Pump your arms to give you power and keep momentum going up the hill
6) KEEP RUNNING! Don’t stop at the top! Keep running through the peak of the hill to keep momentum going. It will be harder to start up again if you do…
*In race situation, it is very important to remember that the goal is to keep EFFORT the SAME on the uphill and the downhill. This of course does NOT equal the same PACE. A good way to tell if you are working too hard on the hills is by using a heart rate monitor. It helps prevent you from burning out too soon and not having enough in the tank to get you to the finish line.
Lastly, power walk or run? The great debate- I have been on races before and been passed by people who are exceptional at power walking up hills. This is a great way to conserve energy especially in longer races where you really need it. Try both- whatever works for you. Just remember the equal effort rule!


Suzanne 2Suzanne Foster  is an experienced runner and sports physiotherapist with post graduate expertise in running injury treatment and prevention. She is a long standing associate at West 4th Physiotherapy.

She is the 2015  5 Peaks  Women’s Champion.

 Book an appointment with Suzanne at 6047309478

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