Some people love it and some hate it, but improving your uphill running can help every runner. Check out these five top tips to help you on the hills.
1 Shorter strides
Shorter strides save energy and maintain cadence. I liken the feel and technique of smooth hill running to climbing on the bike; as you start to climb you change gear to maintain cadence and avoid too much pedal pressure. As the gradient increases further you change gears again to maintain and so on. When you are running uphill, you want to maintain a similar cadence to that on level ground. Use your stride length to change gears and stay smooth on the hills.
Throwing in some zig-zags on very steep inclines dramatically reduces the severity of the slope not to mention the lactic acid build up in your legs. This is a variation on the mountaineering technique of cross-graining where following the contour around the mountain takes away the steepness of the slope. The wider your zig-zags the more steepness you take out of the slope. Give it a try.
Using an analogy from another sport entirely, I take inspiration from horse riding. When you climb on horseback, you lean forwards to assist the horse by moving your centre of gravity forwards. Imagine if you were giving someone a piggyback up hill and they leaned back… Lean forwards when running uphill just enough to keep your weight over your foot strike. This is facilitated by point 1. Shorter Strides.
4 Arm Carry
When you are uphill running, do not just carry your arms, drive them. The arms act as a driver to create tension and generate energy diagonally through your trunk. This delivers power and maintains balance. This is why your right arm swings with your left leg and vice-versa. Try running strongly with the same arm and leg swinging together, it just does not work. So, exaggerate your arms to drive you forwards and upwards. Aim for 90º at the elbow. Secondly, I like to imagine that as my arm powers forwards and upwards like a boxer’s uppercut, the weight of the arm is effectively floating at the moment I push off with the back leg. The arm weighs around three to five kilos so a good arm drive saves you energy with every stride.
5 Slow Down
If the aim of your run is to bury yourself and push your lactic acid tolerance to the max, carry on. However, if you are running hills as part of a fartlek, threshold/tempo or long run, you want to run the whole session (without stopping) to get the prescribed training dose and physiological effect. So, it makes sense to slow down a little. Fartleks certainly suit shorter climbs followed by longer flats, but a threshold run soon turns into Interval intensity if you are not careful so remember the purpose of the session. Setting a target heart rate can be very helpful here, otherwise, ask yourself “how am I feeling?” and make sure the answer is appropriate for your planned session.
Give these uphill running tips a go and let me know if they help you.