How to Run Hills Properly

Man running up grassy hillside

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If you're one of those runners who dreads running hills, it may be because you're not using the right hill running techniques. With the correct technique, you can master hill running and avoid over-exertion and strain. Follow these steps for proper hill running, and you may actually look forward to inclines during your runs.

Steps for Hill Running

With proper pacing, technique and form, hills won't be so daunting. Follow this tips for running hills during training and races.

Pace Yourself

Don't start thinking that you want to attack the hill. The key to running hills properly is to maintain your effort level (which translates into a slower pace on the uphill), so you don't waste energy and end up out of breath at the top of the hill (that's a common mistake among runners).

Watch Your Form

As you approach an uphill, make sure you have good running form. Your arms should be at a 90-degree angle and should be moving forward and back (rotating at the shoulder), not side to side. Look ahead of you, not to the sides. Your gaze should be focused 10 to 20 ahead for proper form and safety.

Check your posture

Your back should be straight and erect. You can lean in very slightly from the hips, but make sure you're not hunched over. Also, be sure to avoid straining your neck forward. Keep your head in line so that your ears are over your mid-shoulders to avoid neck tension and strain.

Change Your Arm Swing

Arm swing technique is one of the factors that affect running efficiency. Concentrate on swinging your arms lower and shorter. By keeping your arm swing lower and quicker, your legs will stay lower to the ground resulting in a short, quick stride. Be sure to keep your hands relaxed.

Return To a Normal Stride

As you reach the top of the hill, you can begin your normal stride again. If you run the hill properly, you'd be able to pass runners who wasted too much energy on the hill. Returning to your normal stride will help you get back into your natural rhythm.

Be Careful Downhill

The best way to run downhill is to lean forward slightly and take short, quick strides. Don't lean back and try to brake yourself. Try to keep your shoulders just slightly in front of you and your hips under you. Although it's tempting to overstride, avoid taking huge leaping steps to reduce the pounding on your legs.

Tips for Races

  • Do not "attack" the hill, this will lead to exhaustion
  • Use the same effort (not pace) on the hill as you do on flat ground
  • Whatever effort you use, be sure you can sustain it so you do not run out of energy
  • Use the downhill portion to run faster, leaning forward and using gravity to assist you

Build Strength and Stamina

Once you've perfected your technique, you can build your strength and improve your speed and confidence by running hill repeats. This workout uses a hill of 100 to 200 meters long (300 to 600 feet or one to three city blocks).

Hill Repeats

Run this hill repeats workout with good form, practicing the techniques for posture and efficiency.

  • Run at your 5K pace uphill
  • Recover running or walking downhill.
  • Try two to three repeats for beginners and six to 10 repeats for advanced runners

Of course, one of the ways to run hills without going outside is to use a treadmill. Using the treadmill's incline feature can simulate hills and allow you to work on your hill running form.

Some treadmills also feature a decline setting to simulate running downhill. If you are preparing for a hilly race, it's best to practice both your uphill and downhill running form.

A Word From Verywell

Running hills is a daunting task for runners, but with the proper form and technique and some solid practice, you can become better at it. Keeping a steady pace and not overexerting yourself will help you maintain the energy to finish the race. Practicing on hills or a treadmill set at an incline is an excellent way to prepare. Make sure to take rest days for recovery as well.

4 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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  2. Moore IS. Is There an Economical Running Technique? A Review of Modifiable Biomechanical Factors Affecting Running Economy. Sports Med. 2016;46(6):793-807. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0474-4

  3. Van oeveren BT, De ruiter CJ, Beek PJ, Van dieën JH. Optimal stride frequencies in running at different speeds. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(10):e0184273. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0184273

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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.