Trail Tip Tuesday: What You Need to Know About Hill Training

I recently asked a group of runners online if their preference is running or power-hiking and if they prefer ascending a hill or descending down it. I was very surprised at the number of people who actually preferred going up! My preference is running downhill technical terrain but I usually have to wait to be rewarded after getting myself up a hill first.

Where you live plays a large role in determining the type of terrain that you frequently have access to train on. I live in Ottawa, Canada and prefer to train in the nearby Gatineau Park. I am fortunate to be able to go to the park and run different trails every week and end up with an ascent and descent variance of maybe 30 metres. Gatineau Park is known for its’ rolling hills, which means I am constantly training on both an incline and decline. Effectively training on hills will without a doubt make you a better runner on any terrain.

Some benefits of hill training:

  • builds strength
  • increases speed/endurance
  • reduces injuries
  • is mentally and physically rewarding
  • burns more calories
  • it’s FUN

Quick Tips for going UP:

  • Arm swing- use your arms to propel you, keep them tucked in and pump them, your legs will follow.
  • Lift your knees and think of toeing off. Use visualization here, imagine your foot landing on the ground, keep it on the ground all the way to your toes and then lift off from your toes extending your leg back.
  • Keep your head up (stop looking at your feet) and imagine your body upright. Leaning forward too much can cause lower back pain and prevent you from breathing properly. It also limits your hip flexors from assisting you when lifting your knees and prevents you from extending your leg.

Quick Tips for going DOWN:

  • Use your arms for balance
  • Slightly lean your whole body forward (don’t break at the waist)
  • Keep your stride small and land closer to the balls of your feet (avoid heel striking).
  • Land softly- this helps to give you better control on uneven terrain
  • Increase cadence
  • Look about 3 ft or so ahead of you and not down at your feet

The natural tendency for running downhill is to use your legs to break and slow down. This causes a lot of stress on your body and puts you at greater risk for injury. The same can be said for taking off out of control on a downhill, the pounding can cause a lot of stress on your joints and quads. Instead try and relax and use gravity to pull you forward, and run with a slightly bent knee when landing to lessen the impact. Let loose and have a fun, but stay in control.

I took a running technique clinic and the instructor Mike Stashin shared this analogy. Remember pogo sticks? If you visualize yourself on a pogo stick and you lean backwards and try to move forward it’s impossible. That’s what it is like running down hill leaning backwards, you essentially are breaking the whole way down. Now try completely upright, you’re not going to move forward. Now lean on the pogo stick slightly forward, your whole body is in alignment as you are leaning forward. You will be amazed at the forward movement that you can achieve with this technique.

I’m very curious, what is your preference, running uphill or downhill?

Keep Chasing Dreams!


Written by Leanne Richardson

Leanne is an Ultra Runner who loves to connect with other runners online and in her community to encourage others to chase their dreams!!

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