The Benefits of Hill Running

three runners jogging downhill on mountain road


Some runners don't like hill running because it's, well, hard. But running hills provides a lot of benefits to runners, so it is important to include them in your training. Here are some of the ways you can benefit from hill running:

Build Strength

Running inclines, either on a hill outdoors or on a treadmill, is a form of resistance training that builds muscle in your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Hill running strengthens those areas more than running on flat surfaces.

You'll also strengthen your hip flexors and Achilles' tendons. If you hate doing circuit training or strength training, hills are a smart way to build those muscles through running rather than through lifting weights.

Increase Speed

The muscles you use to run hills are the same muscles used for sprinting. So 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, which may mean cutting your uphill run short on longer hills. You run up the hill as fast as you can and 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, simply increase the incline for one to three minutes, then jog to recover.

Boost Intensity and Calorie Burn

While runners can add intensity by speeding up, hills offer a way to do it at the same speed. You will feel your heart rate, respiration, and probably your perspiration, go up when you start uphill. While you might not often achieve a speed where you are near your limit, you may be able to so more easily with a hill.

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

Bust Boredom

Although some runners say that they don't like hills, it is more common to hear that runners get bored running on a completely flat course. If you're used to running on the same flat routes, adding uphills and downhills to your routine can help prevent both mental and physical burnout from boredom.

Your body gets used to running on flat roads. Hills provide a welcome distraction while they mix things up and lead to new fitness gains. Reaching the top is a small triumph and helps to boost your confidence mid-workout. If nothing else, you may get a better view from the top of the hill. 

Reduce Injuries

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

Running uphill forces you to engage the glute and hamstring muscles on the back of your legs. Running downhill requires stability through the knee joint which engages the lateral and medial quadriceps muscles.

Then, when those muscles are challenged in future runs (or during other athletic events), they are more ready 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 race course. Your improved strength and technique on the hills will give you a confidence boost when you're racing. You'll feel a lot more mentally prepared for hills knowing that you've practiced them during training.

If you have an upcoming race, it may be helpful for you to check the course map. Many runs also include an elevation chart so that you know how hilly your route will be. You can choose to either find and train on those exact same hills to prepare for the race. Or you can find hills with a similar elevation to get race-ready.

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

Strengthen the Upper Body

Uphill running forces you to drive your arms harder than you do when running on flat ground, so you'll improve your ability to engage the core and boost your upper body strength.

Of course, running hills does not take the place of proper strength training. But there's nothing like running uphill to remind yourself that running is a sport that should integrate muscles throughout the body—including the abdominals, back, shoulders and more.

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