Most runners have experienced that feeling of apprehension as a hill approaches. There's no getting away from it, they can be brutal, particularly when a cold hearted organiser pops in a mile long incline at the end of a race!
However you can make things easier and hills don't have to be your nemesis! By using correct running form when hill running you have the ability to optimise your efficiency, limit the pain you feel during the climb and speed up your recovery once you reach the top.
Below are 5 tips that you can adopt to ensure you're running up gradients with good technique. Please note, this advice is for uphills (we'll take a look at downhill form at a later date):
- Do not lean forward from the waist - When a runner reaches a hill, they often lean into the gradient. Whilst there should be a slight lean, this should not come from the waist. Excessive flexing at the waist and a dropped chest as shown in image 1 below is highly inefficient as it makes it a lot more difficult to flex your hips and drive up with your knees. This hunched position also inhibits the amount of force you can produce when pushing off the ground as your hips are unable to extend to their full potential (and therefore the glutes can't fire effectively). A further issue comes with the fact that you'll be thrown off balance by over-flexing meaning you're not in an optimum position to land, load and push off. When running uphill, remember to run tall and ensure your chest is up.
- Drive your knees high - It's so important to drive your knees when running uphill (as shown in image 2 below). If you don't, you'll experience that 'scuffing' sensation as the front foot lands. Work on driving the knee high with intent, landing on the ball of your foot before extending your leg fully behind you with power.
- Keep your head up throughout - Ensure your head and eyes are up and looking out in front, not down at at the ground. Holding posture like in figure 2 will encourage efficient oxygen consumption whereas slouching like in figure 1 could restrict uptake and negatively affect performance.
- Actively plantar flex at the ankle - This is a fancy way of saying that when you push off the back foot, consciously drive off the floor by pointing your toes towards the ground with intent. The ankle has potential to be a powerful joint so use it as much as you can to get you up that incline.
- Keep cadence high - It's common that a runner approaches a hill with a good and desirable cadence (high number of steps per minute), but then as soon as the gradient increases they significantly lower their stride rate as they 'grind' their way up the hill. My advice would be to keep your cadence at the same number as on the flat ground. This will encourage the knees to drive forwards continuously so momentum is not lost. Your pace will inevitably drop (which is absolutely fine as you're now battling gravity) but you don't want to spend more time on that hill than required as it'll zap your energy!
Next time you take on a hill incorporate these tips into your session. It could take a bit of practice and the changes may well feel a little odd at first, but as hills aren't going away anytime soon, it's a battle well worth winning!
By Marc Brown