Training tips, form tweaks and hill running improvements so you can eat mountains for breakfast
Improve Your Hill Running
Hills burn. They also build leg strength that translates to the power needed for speed and endurance. Running hills not only improves speed it also increases your VO2 Max. It might be worth shifting your mindset, so that even if you don’t love hills…you might just start to seek them out.
3 Training Tips for Hill Running
Maintain Good Posture: The most common difficulty with hill running is having poor posture, particularly in the hips. As the slope steepens, so does our forward lean. We’re naturally inclined to overcompensate by bending at the waist, as if we were reaching for something on the floor. Bending like this creates unnecessary stress on our lower backs and it also becomes more difficult to maintain full hip extension, robbing each stride of power and efficiency. Let’s protect our lower backs and improve stride efficiency by avoiding a bend in the waist.
Of course, there’s an “incline limit” to our ability to stay tall when running up particularly steep hills. At a certain point, we can’t remain tall due to things like ankle range of motion, strength, and balance but staying as tall as possible reaps tremendous rewards. When running uphill, stay tall, just like we do on flat ground. Think of saying “hips into the hill” as a reminder to focus on driving the hips forward and avoiding bending over at the hips.
Quick Steps: In general, the most optimal cadence for running hills is around 90 steps per minute (spm). This helps fix many running form issues such as over-striding, a funky arm swing, over-rotating your torso, etc. If you’re considerably taller or shorter than average, you might be a bit above or below 90 spm. Additionally, beginner runners shouldn’t worry about hitting this target cadence right off the bat.
The main goal with optimal cadence during hill running is maintaining 90spm. Since our stride length decreases due to slower speeds when we run up hills, 90spm will feel considerably faster than running on even terrain. We have to willingly adopt a shorter stride while running uphill.
A great way to test your stride cadence is to over-stride your way up a moderate hill. Literally use the longest steps you can take! You won’t be able to do it for long because it’s overwhelmingly tiring. If we keep the cadence as high as on flat surfaces, we can maintain a more efficient rhythm not only for the hill sections, but for the entirety of the run.
Relax your ankles: When running uphill, we generally need to employ a greater range of motion in our ankles than we do on flat ground. If we lack this range of motion, we are forced to run on our toes. Here’s an easy test: Try standing while you read this. Push up onto your toes for the rest of the newsletter. Which muscles are working hard to keep you up there? That’s right, you feel the burn in your calves. If you run like this consistently, you’ll end up with strained or injured calves, and might wake up in the middle of the night to muscle discomfort.
To reduce the strain on your calves, make sure your heels lightly kiss the ground with every step. This heel kiss saves your calves in your stride and prevents the unpleasant calf meltdown catastrophe. Worried about heel striking? As the hill gets steeper, the likelihood of overstriding and heel striking will lessen. Try it out! You should still work on maintaining a bit of control when relaxing the ankles still.
4 Simple Form Tweaks That Make Running Hills Easier
Running uphill and downhill require some slight tweaks to your form to maximize your power and efficiency as well as provide you much needed oxygen. Here are four form suggestions and a visual for how to implement them.
The most critical element is that you keep your chest up and open.
Keep your head and eyes up, looking about 30 meters in front of you.
Focus on driving your knee off the hill, not into the hill
Plantar flex (point your toes towards the ground) at the ankle.
Thanks to Coach Jeff at Runners Connect
How to Eat Mountains for Breakfast
Andrew Douglas reveals 10 tips and tricks to knock serious time off a steep climb.
Shorten your stride
Lean into the hill
Find your rhythm
Choose your overtaking spot carefully
Don't let someone else dictate your run
The stair climb machine in the gym helps
Wear lightweight shoes with great grip
Do your homework
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