Reach for the skies: the benefits of hill running

Despite what you might be thinking, running uphill can be great fun and a valuable skill to have under your belt.

And hey, if you’re lucky enough to live in a landscape that’s littered with hills and peaks, then you’ll likely already have a great deal of experience with this already – whether you like it or not. Our company is based in Glasgow, so believe us when we say we know all about having to run uphill on a regular basis!

It can be tough – you are quite literally working to defy gravity, and with some speed too! – but the extra effort and energy used in training in uphill climates can provide an added bulk to your training programme that’ll prove useful in the long run.

There are a number of different types of basic hill runs that you can try:

  • Short hills: 20–30 seconds running up-hill.
  • Medium hills: 40–90 seconds running up-hill.
  • Long hills: 90 seconds + running uphill.
  • Treadmill hill running: Treadmills (particular those at gyms) may have either an in-built incline feature or a pre-installed programme that guides across a mixture of flat and uphill ground.
  • Downhill running: While going up is great, going down can be just as good. They may put extra stress on your joints and muscles, but in small doses, can provide fantastic strength training for your legs.
  • Steps running: Got no hills where you are? No problem. Just use any nearby steps or stairs for your uphill running training instead.

So, if you’re looking to learn more about hill running and benefits then we’ve got you covered. Read on below for our key information and top tips.

The Benefits of Hill Running

Give yourself a monstrous mentality

Hills are friends, not foes. For runners, they exist to make you better, faster and stronger.

Probably the first and most important thing to understand when it comes to hill running is that hills aren’t the natural enemy to runners that many might think they are.

Try not to think of hills as a negative part of your running routine, but a challenge or obstacle to overcome. Of course, that’s not to say that running uphill may prove a tricky task that drains your energy and reduces your speed but viewing it as something that’s a bad part of your running doesn’t do you any favours.

Change your mindset on hill running – it’s not a detrimental section of a run, but a challenge to be faced, a barrier to breakthrough, and another string to add to your bow.

Hill running makes you faster

…and don’t you forget it.

Doing hill repeats (running uphill for a period of time before walking back down and repeating) can improve aspects of your running from your stamina, resting heart rate and your endurance – which, when all put together, can make you become a faster runner with a little bit of effective training.

In a study from 2017 (published by the International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications), Ethiopian researchers wanted to find out how effective hill training was on the middle to long-distance runners.

So, they set out an experiment that consisted of 32 athletes who were split into two groups; one ‘control group’, who were to do mainly endurance training, and an ‘experimental group’, who trained with both endurance and a couple of hill running workouts every week over a 12 week period. The runners’ VO2 max scores, resting heart rate, speed endurance, and race times were all taken prior to the experiment and were measured again at the end of the 6 weeks, and then once more after 12 weeks.

The results showed that the experimental group – who had consistently run on hills – had a significant improvement in their VO2 max, resting heart rate, and speed endurance. On the other hand, the control group did not have anywhere near the same positive results.

The main takeaway from this particular study is that hill running can improve aspects of your running that you may not experience and better if you continue to run just on flat or downhill ground.

Better your endurance

Hill running is tough, not just on the body but on the mind too.

It takes a lot of drive and grit to consistently run uphill, but it comes with a lot of rewards. For starters, it makes you a stronger, tougher runner, and when it comes to running on more stable and flat ground, you’ll notice the benefits of having run uphill.

That’s not to say it’ll be easy, but it’ll certainly feel easier than having to relentlessly grind your way uphill after hill. Bettering your endurance and your stamina can be crucial for a long-distance runner, and hill running can help you reach those heights.

Work up your strength

When you run uphill, you’re forcing your arms to do more work to generate more power and momentum as you move – ergo, you’re working your upper body far more than you would on flat ground.

Not only are your arms having to do more, but your core is also getting a burning workout as a result too. You’re forcing all of your upper body muscles to build more power and push your weight up those hills. Sure, it might not be weight training by any means, but hey, you’re grinding out more results than you do by staying on a flat path, that’s for sure.

That’s without even mentioning how important hill running can be for your leg strength. It’s resistance training that gives your glutes, hamstrings, calves and quads a super intense workout and can serve as a good alternative for strength training instead of crushing weights in the gym.

Stronger body, fewer injuries

You want your body to be at its strongest, and not just so you feel great and run better – it’s also important to keep you moving safely and staying injury-free.

Running uphill requires you to do more intense work than you would on flatter ground, giving your muscles a real workout. Meanwhile, when you run downhill, your joints, lateral and medial quadriceps muscles are given some work to do too.

Working those muscles in a more demanding way will provide you with stronger joints and muscles, meaning your body is better placed to avoid any potential injuries.

Train for those races

Going hill running is the perfect training for a marathon or race – and not just for races that cover a lot of uphill ground.

Of course, practising uphill running will make races with hilly terrain easier to complete when it comes to the day of the competition, and when you hit your groove you’ll feel prepared and confident as you take on that big burst of uphill running.

Not only that, but it’ll also make your flat ground running seem so much easier in comparison. When you run uphill, you work your body a lot harder than on flats, which can distort how you view running on flatter ground as being easier in comparison.

It’s not just a trick on your brain though, as your body will be stronger, better and more accustomed to more demanding routes that the easier routes will feel, well, just that – easier.

How to hill run effectively

First of all, don’t just go darting up your nearest hill. That’s ill-advised and may lead to potential injuries if you’re not fully aware of what you’re doing and how to do it safely and effectively.

Hill running is probably best suited to runners who have a good understanding of running and a fair bit of mileage under their belt already.

That’s not to say that beginners aren’t able to or shouldn’t go hill running at all, but just that you’ll find hill running more enjoyable and rewarding if you’ve built up some running experience beforehand.

What most uphill runners will recommend is integrating uphill running into your routine to start with.

Start with short hill runs and working your fitness and strength up to medium and then eventually longer hill runs will help your body adjust to the demands of hill running more effectively than just charging straight up your nearest Munro (which we do not recommend in the slightest).

You can also try slotting in hill running into your usual training programme, with the odd hill here and there giving you great practice for the more intense hill running that may later wish to build towards.

Gradual runs over longer distance will also help build your uphill running experience and can be achieved by just switching up your usual long-run to a more hill landscape.

The name of the game for building much of your strength in hill running is hill reps. You want to aim to be able to run uphill more often and for longer as you progress, and by working to lengthen your reps with each hill run you do, you’ll gradually hit those targets over time.

One thing to be wary of is the amount of stress you place on your body. Unfortunately, as great as hill running can be, it is guilty of placing a lot of demands on the legs and upper body while running back downhill will also put a great deal of stress on your knees, hips and ankles.

Be mindful of your body as you embark on hill running — reps will keep you in check so that you don’t overdo it and end up causing yourself harm.

Attis Fitness has developed the next generation of fitness trackers — STRIDENSENSE.