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It’s Just A Hill….get Over It!

running to uphil


Running outside almost year-round is one of the perks of living in Southeastern NC but living near the beach means that we tend to find ourselves running at sea-level with few changes in elevation. Not every race you’ll compete in will be as flat as the roads around Wilmington, but should I really do hill training?

The simple answer is YES! Hill training is another way to challenge the different systems of your body through running. Not only does it add some interest to the landscape of your runs, but hill runs can also:

  • Increase muscular strength
  • Increase speed
  • Increases mental stamina

Hill running has two main components to it: the uphill and the downhill. Each are equally important for success, but also work different muscle groups and systems. Both can also cause injury if done incorrectly. It’s just as important to do the PRE-hab side of training as it is to do the running itself. Read on for some more information regarding the different phases of hill training, a hill training workout, and some more information about how our Run Strong groups can help you prepare for all your runs.


Just When You Think You’ve Peaked

The uphill portion of the run is by far the hardest aerobically. Lifting the legs, leaning forward at the ankle, and focusing on the push off to propel you both forward and up the incline each creates its own challenges. For best running form up hill you should focus on:

· Taking smaller and more frequent strides

· Eyes on the top of the hill

· More plantar flexion

· Open tall chest

· Using the arms more


Running up hill may challenge you more in some ways, but it also decrease your impact forces. Runners who struggle with hills tend to be too far upright, leaning too far into the hill, not lifting their legs, looking at their feet, and/or feel like they’re just plodding up the hill.

To get the most out of your uphill training, the goal should be to strengthen hip flexors, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves as well as adjust the angle to the ground to improve the climbing ability.


It’s All Downhill from Here is Only Good to Hear During a Run

Coming down the backside should be some of the most fun part of your run. Think joyfully laughing as you “fall” down the hill. This will allow you to increase the turnover of your stride and pick up the pace as you head into the flat or next hill. The biggest mistake most runners make in hill training and during races is to use downhills as recovery.


The danger in this portion of the run is the increase in overall impact on the lower body. Runners will also notice that the foot strike moves from the toe in the uphill climb closer to the heel in the downhill stride. This increases the risk of injury, so runners should try to focus on landing more toward the ball of the foot to spring forward and allow the foot to be under you with each fall. Allow the arms to be more open and the body to rotate more during the downhill portion of the run.


The goal for training downhills should be to maintain control without resisting gravity that causes a loss of momentum.


Strength to Improve Hill Running

As with all forms of endurance training, the strength component is equally necessary to hit your goals. Resistance training specific to hill training can:


Improve run economy

Improve leg strength to propel up a hill

Create less muscle fatigue after finishing hill for a stronger race finish

Maintain consistent and stronger run technique going uphill


Exercises to Improve the Uphill Climb

Exercises to Improve the Downhill Slide


Ups and Downs

Hill running should be thought of us a paired event. You can’t just do the up or the down, but instead need to train them both equally in order to create an EVEN EFFORT performance. The energy expended on the uphill should only be slightly more than that used on the downhill to maintain balance and consistency. Not sure if you’re running balanced? Schedule a Gait or Clinical Run Analysis or sign-up for our Run Strong Group!



Run Strong is a periodized program developed weekly to supplement your endurance training and ultimately change your approach to achieving higher levels of performance within triathlon and cycling training. This 2 day/week program will include exercises to develop strength, power, speed and hypertrophy at the appropriate time of the year to optimize performance. Prehab, injury reduction, and corrective exercises/ drills are a large emphasis to keep you training and at the highest level.


Hill Run Workout

Try one of the different hill runs below:


Training Day 1

Find a gradually increasing stretch of road or trail (5-6 minutes)

· Repeats on this stretch (up and downhill) x5


Training Day 2

Bleachers (stair climbing) (time based or sets based )

· 5 x (3 minutes of ascending/ descending bleachers + 1/4 mile steady on track)


Training Day 3

Parking garage stairs

· 3 x (climb/ descend 5 floors + easy jog around top floor)

· 1 minute rest between sets

· repeat above x 4


Don’t want to go it alone? Check out Without Limits Monday Hill Runs.


road to uphill


Best Places in Wilmington for Hill Runs


River Road

Near CFCC downtown – Water Street going up Walnut, Red Cross, or Hanover

Share your favorite hill runs and races with us on FB and IG!


Upcoming Runs with some Elevation – Check out these races in Asheville to test your hill skills

Resources for Deeper Reading

Biomechanics and Physiology of Uphill and Downhill Running (2017)

Does Hill Running Increase Injury Risk?

7 Benefits you can get out of Hill Training

A man in a blue shirt smiling in front of a brick wall.

Dr. Ryan Godfrey

PT, DPT, Owner of Change the Game Performance

We help athletes get back to training pain free, injury free without taking time off.


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