The Benefits of Hill Running

three runners jogging downhill on mountain road


Some runners don't like hill running, as it can be difficult. However, hard work pays off. Running hills has many benefits, including increasing your strength, speed, and confidence, as well as relieving boredom.

Here are a few reasons why you might want to include hills in your training.

Build Strength

Running inclines (either outdoors or on a treadmill) is a form of resistance training. It builds muscle in your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes. You'll also strengthen your hip flexors and Achilles' tendons.

Hill running strengthens these areas more than running on flat surfaces. As a bonus, if you hate doing circuit training or strength training, hills can be a great way to build these muscles through running rather than lifting weights.

Increase Speed

The muscles you use to run hills are the same muscles used for sprinting. The strength you build running inclines will help to improve your overall running speed. 

Hill repeats are an excellent workout for speed, strength, confidence, and mental endurance. While no two hills are identical for distance and incline, the workout is simple.

To complete a hill repeat, use a hill distance of 100 to 200 meters (you might need to cut your uphill run short on longer hills). Run up the hill as fast as you can, then recover by jogging or walking down. 

A hill workout is also a great way to mix up your treadmill routine. To do hill repeats on a treadmill, increase the incline for one to three minutes, then jog to recover.

Boost Intensity and Calorie Burn

Runners can add intensity by speeding up, but hills offer a way to increase intensity while going at the same speed. Your heart rate, respiration, and probably the rate of your perspiration, will go up as you start running uphill.

As a runner, you might not achieve a speed near your limit very often when on level ground, but you might be able to so more easily on a hill.

Another benefit of adding intensity is that you'll burn more calories when running uphill. The actual number of additional calories will depend on the grade of the incline and other factors, but you can expect to increase your fat-burning potential by adding hills to your workout.

Bust Boredom

It's common to hear runners say that they get bored running on a completely flat course. While it's also true that some runners don't like hills, when you are feeling stuck in a rut, adding uphills and downhills to your routine can help prevent mental and physical burnout from boredom.

Your body gets used to running on flat roads. Hills provide a welcome distraction. When you mix things up with your routine, it can lead to new fitness gains.

Reaching the top of an incline is a small triumph that will boost your confidence mid-workout. If nothing else, you might get a better view from the top of the hill. 

Reduce Injuries

As you strengthen your leg muscles through hill running, you might also reduce the risk of suffering from ​running-related injuries. You will have trained your muscles to perform at different levels of incline.

As you're running uphill, you'll be required to engage your glutes and hamstring muscles. Going downhill requires the stability provided by your knee joints as they engage your lateral and medial quadriceps muscles.

When those muscles are challenged in future runs or athletic events, they'll be better prepared to meet the new physical barrier.

Race Preparation

The more you run hills, the less intimidating they'll seem when you encounter them on a racecourse. Your improved strength and technique will give you a confidence boost when you're racing. You'll feel more mentally prepared for hills if you practiced them during training.

If you have an upcoming race, check the course map. Many runs will also include an elevation chart so that you can see how hilly your route will be. You can plan to train on the specific hills or find hills with a similar elevation to get race-ready.

Training on hills before your race will help you improve your time during the actual marathon.

Strengthen Your Upper Body

Uphill running forces you to drive your arms harder than you do when running on flat ground. This means you'll improve your ability to engage your core as well as boost your upper body strength.

Running hills does not take the place of proper strength training, but there's nothing like powering up an incline to remind you that running is a sport where you'll need to integrate all your muscles.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.