Going up? Running uphill is something many runners dread, but we’d always consider it a new challenge to embrace, and one that brings its own unique set of benefits.
If you choose to swap the track or treadmill for a more unpredictable terrain, you’ll be running uphill at some point. While running uphill can be intimidating, even for experienced runners, our guide aims to explain how you can get involved safely and effectively.
Whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned runner looking to improve your uphill running technique, you’re in the perfect place. In this article you’ll find useful information, from choosing your ideal hill to the importance of good posture, along with the benefits and risks of running uphill.
- What Does Running Uphill Involve?
- Tips For Running Uphill
- Benefits of Running Uphill
- Risks of Running Uphill
- How To Start Running Uphill
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Our Conclusions
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What Does Running Uphill Involve?
Running uphill seems pretty self-explanatory. However, while it may sound simple enough, a clear understanding is always important before starting your journey, especially as this can help us to avoid any misconceptions, and make the most of our fitness.
Uphill running (also referred to as uphill training) is a type of resistance training, meaning the body needs to fight against a form of resistance (in this case, the incline) in order to achieve the desired result. It involves running up an elevated surface, ideally one with a steady incline if you’re a beginner.
Uphill running can be done outdoors, in an area you’re familiar with, or you can adjust a treadmill to a specific incline to better fit the difficulty of the run you want to complete.
It’s a great way to strengthen leg muscles, which include the calves, quads, and hamstrings, as well as improve overall stamina and speed. It also offers an alternative to more traditional running, providing an additional level of challenge that might be missing from other forms of running.
Now you know what the practice involves, let’s get to some tips for running uphill!
Tips For Running Uphill
It’s important to understand the differences between uphill running and flat running. Slight adjustments should be made when you reach the incline, so having the correct knowledge and technique before this point is vital.
So, to ensure a smooth and successful run, here are our top tips for running uphill.
#1 - Strengthen Your Core
Before you begin tackling hills it’s important to focus on all areas of the body, not just the legs. One way to do this is by exploring the benefits of strength training as part of your workouts. While a six-pack may not seem like a priority for runners, there are benefits to a strong core which will help you achieve your goals.
While your legs will be doing most of the work, the core is crucial for maintaining a good uphill running form. It acts as a foundation for muscle support, helping you to push yourself longer.
A strong upper form ensures a better transfer of force to the ground, making you much more powerful. This is most important when you’re nearing the top of the hill, and your body is under large amounts of stress.
Once you begin losing your runner’s form, you’ll lean over much more and this can put a lot of strain on your legs. A stronger core makes for better posture and you’ll understand how important this is below.
#2 - Begin On The Stairs
A great place to perfect your uphill running technique is by training on stairs. Most of us will have a flight of stairs nearby that we can adapt for our training. However, just as there are differences between uphill running and flat running, running stairs is different too.
The main difference is steepness. The maximum pitch of a domestic staircase is 42°, which is at a much greater incline than most outdoor hills. Use stairs to master your uphill running technique and practice good form. The intensity of stair running allows your body to familiarise itself with running at a steep incline, making you stronger once you move outside.
The beauty of this practice is you don’t need any fancy equipment to get started. If you don’t have access to any available stairs you can combat this by using stair climb machines at the gym. These can be just as effective for mastering uphill running technique and form, and seriously help you to improve your uphill running form.
Understanding how different workouts and exercises can come together to improve other areas of your fitness is vital - explore more in our guide to cross training and its benefits and risks.
#3 - Have Suitable Footwear
Once you’re ready to venture outdoors, it’s vital you have good footwear. Most runners would agree that running uphill is difficult, so why make it harder? The wrong shoes can result in a greater risk of injury.
Lightweight, cushioned running shoes with lots of padding and ankle support are ideal. You’ll need a pair with plenty of grip, especially during wet weather, and particularly if you choose to run along hiking trails.
Comfort is essential for running uphill, so consider wearing an extra layer of socks for further cushioning, especially if your budget doesn’t extend to some of the more expensive running shoes.
While it may seem like regular cotton socks will suffice, cotton fibres retain a lot of moisture. This can result in cold feet in winter, and blistered feet in summer. Socks made from merino wool are great for running as they are breathable and actually draw moisture away from the body. Nylon and polyester are also popular choices for the same reasons.
#4 - Choosing Your Hill
Now you’ve mastered the technique, it’s time to choose your perfect hill. We advise starting easy so it’s best to find a suitable incline for your level.
It’s important to establish a routine for uphill training. Slow and steady is something to remember here. Start by picking a suitable hill and familiarise yourself with it. Once you’ve mastered your first one and feel more confident, find a slightly tougher one.
This makes it easier for you to track your progress by gradually increasing the steepness of the gradient over time - we’d suggest keeping a dedicated fitness journal to keep track of your progress properly.
Starting with a steep hill means you’ll tire quickly and it may put you off continuing. Running different hills of varying inclines during each training session will result in overexertion and leave you needing longer recovery periods.
Pushing yourself too fast and too soon could result in injury. While you may feel comfortable during your run tackling the huge hill in front of you, it’s best to build up to this gradually by familiarising yourself with the terrain first.
#5 - Run “Tall”
When running uphill you may notice you begin to focus on your feet rather than what’s in front of you. If you’re wondering how to improve your uphill running technique, start by ‘running tall’. Here, you should apply the rules of flat running to maintain good form.
This is done best by keeping your eyes forward, back straight, and hips and knees aligned. By keeping your back straight, the knees will naturally lift higher and keep you going. Ensure your shoulders, arms, and neck are relaxed, especially as tension will make them more susceptible to injury.
When your body becomes fatigued, it’s much more tempting to slouch and lose form. This is when you’ll find yourself looking at your feet, which isn’t a great idea if you’re running up a steep hill.
Keeping your head up means you’ll be much more aware of the terrain, and can spot any obstacles in your path long before your feet hit them. Being aware of the terrain is especially important when running ‘off road’ or on hiking trails.
Maintaining good posture can be difficult for a beginner but it will conserve more energy. The hip extensor muscles (glutes and hamstrings) help keep the body stable and well-balanced.
If your joints are aligned and the back is straight, they won’t have to work as hard to keep the body upright. Excessive exertion results in quicker exhaustion and can lead to injuries such as sprains because of strain on the muscles.
#6 - Shorter Stride Length
Another difference between flat running and uphill running is that it’s better to adopt shorter strides. Quick and light steps work best here, so make sure to use small and springy steps more often. Many runners make the mistake of increasing speed once they reach the incline. This overexertion will tire you long before you’ve reached the top.
It’s best to have a high running cadence (number of steps per minute) when running uphill. Shorter strides reduce unnecessary knee lifts which will result in greater fatigue as your body cannot sustain this for a long period of time. The shorter your stride, the lower your knees will be, and therefore the less exertion you’ll need, which is vital in those last few strides.
Think of maintaining equal effort rather than equal pace when running uphill. Don’t be disheartened if you feel you aren’t running fast enough.
Once you start practicing the ‘quick and light’ technique, you will naturally increase speed as you will have maintained a constant level of effort throughout your training. By building your speed up gradually, you’ll also become more accustomed to moving at a quicker pace, and therefore be less likely to sustain injuries because of it.
#7 - Lean Into The Hill
Now, this may sound contradictory regarding our tip on good posture. However, this doesn’t mean bend your upper body at a 90-degree angle. Many beginners who hear this advice lean too far into the hill which negatively impacts their training.
We strongly advise against leaning in from your waist. Rather, let it come naturally from your hips and ankles. Bending the torso makes it difficult to use the hip flexors, and bring the knees up during strides. This means you won’t be running as efficiently if your body is slanted.
In order to get the most from your hip flexors, it could be a good idea to work on your flexibility - discover more in OriGym’s top tips to improve your flexibility.
When you ‘run tall’, as we’ve just discussed, it’s easier for your glutes to extend your legs behind you and use the extra energy stored there. This will make you more powerful when pushing off the ground and propelling to the top of the hill.
#8 - Relax Your Body
When running uphill, it’s best to relax as much as possible. We understand this can be difficult when you hit the toughest stages near the top, but it will help your body in the long term. Although it’s natural to tighten bodies when experiencing difficulty, this can put a lot of stress on your cardiovascular system.
To ensure your body is relaxed, perform a ‘body check’. Conduct a mental assessment from your head to your toes, checking for any tension or discomfort.
If your head is down, lift it up so you don’t put unnecessary strain on your neck muscles. If your shoulders are tight, loosen them using shoulder stretches to avoid harbouring tension or soreness. Keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle, leaving the wrists and hands relaxed.
You want to help your body in any way to get you to the top, and your arms are great for this. Your arms should swing forwards and backwards at your sides. This will propel you forward with more power and increase speed.
Keep them relaxed and controlled but not too limp. This will help you use your natural strength to continue rather than forcing it by tensing up, which can lead to easily avoidable injuries or strains.
#9 - Focus On You
Even if you have a training partner, the best thing to do when running uphill is to focus on yourself. Running behind someone can be great motivation to keep you going, especially if you’re both of a similar fitness level.
It can help you push yourself further by undertaking the challenge of overtaking them. While this can be an effective way to help get you to the top of the hill, you must pay attention to your own body.
Don’t let pride force you to continue when you’re close to breaking point. If your body is telling you it can’t carry on, listen to it! Ignoring these warnings may result in injury which will only set your goals back further.
You’re running your own race so don’t let someone else’s run dictate yours. We understand as a beginner it can be disheartening when comparing your ability to others but slow and steady is best. It’s important to recognise your limits when necessary but also be proud of your progress, and acknowledge how far you’ve come.
That can be something as simple as boosting your own running speed - find out more in OriGym’s comprehensive guide to average running speed, and how to improve it.
#10 - Find Your Rhythm
It’s important to find a rhythm when running uphill and even better to maintain it, especially when you find yourself slowing down. This will keep your arms and legs synchronized and help you maintain speed.
They will work together to get you to the top of the hill as your arms will naturally propel you. This isn’t just for keeping you physically in rhythm either. Seriously experienced runners will often use mental tricks to help maintain rhythm and stay focused.
When the pain of the run burns, and the hamstrings and quads tire, they might tap their thumb on top of the closest finger to the rhythm of their running cadence. This helps to maintain a rhythm from the hands to the feet, and distracts from the pain they may be feeling in their legs.
When your body is getting used to the experience, adopting simple things like this is great for beginners. Anything that helps distract your mind from the pain and mentally keeps you in check is important to keep you going.
The same is true of long distance running - finding distraction techniques can mean the difference between making that next mile marker, and falling at the final hurdle.
#11 - Return To A Normal Stride
So now you’re at the top, it’s time to come back down. Depending on the type of hill you’ve conquered, you’ll either be descending swiftly, or you’ll be spending some time running on flat ground.
Whatever the next stage of your terrain is, you’ll need to make some slight adjustments to your strides. While shorter strides can be effective for both uphill and downhill running, you can decrease your cadence slightly and adopt longer strides if you’re running on flat terrain again. With a change in terrain, you’ll likely find your speed increasing.
Be careful not to lose control too much, especially if running downhill. Explore more in our complete guide to downhill running, and learn how to avoid some of the common injuries.
If you’re trail running, there may be more of a gradual slope so ensure your adjustments are gradual too. Keep your posture the same as it was uphill, with your back straight and head up. If you run too fast down a steep hill, especially when you’re already tired, you’ll find it harder to maintain control and could end up with a bad injury.
#12 - Rest And Recover
We won’t lie to you, running uphill is tough. Your muscles will be sore afterwards, especially the next day. The more intense the run, the longer the recovery period will be. While this is unavoidable, there are things you can do before and after to prevent excessive pain.
Warm ups and cool downs are crucial. While they may be tempting to skip, especially afterwards, you should make them a routine part of your exercise, as they can have a huge positive impact on your exercise.
Once you’re outside, you’ll probably want to start running straight away. If you want to avoid injury, it’s always best to begin with a warm-up. Before running, it’s much better to experience the benefits of dynamic stretches rather than static stretches as these are more likely to cause injury.
Dynamic stretches such as walking lunges, arm swings, and squats are great. A ten minute walk or jog is also effective in warming up the body by slowly increasing heart rate and raising body temperature. This also prepares your legs for the run.
Cool downs are important for gradual recovery, helping to return the heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure to pre-exercise levels. Stretching straight after running is best because the muscles are still warm. This helps to reduce a build-up of lactic acid and prevents muscle cramps.
Straight leg calf stretches and kneeling stretches are ideal after running. You should also eat well after training as muscles need protein to recover from tears. Foods such as eggs and chicken are great sources of protein, which plays a crucial role in muscle repair and rebuild.
It’s best to wait a few days until your body has fully recovered before running uphill again. If you go for another run while your legs are still healing it’s unlikely you’ll perform well and this may result in further pain.
#13 - Stay Positive
It’s important to train your mind as well as your body to reach the top of the hill. While running uphill can be intimidating for many runners, embrace the challenge, and find excitement in undertaking a new adventure when it comes to running.
We know it can be difficult starting out, especially if the build-up is slow, but it’s all part of your journey, and we all undertake our journeys at different paces. Putting mental barriers up by thinking negatively and doubting yourself will make you less likely to reach your goals.
Instead, try and adopt a positive mind-set before you start running, and focus on how much better you’ll feel afterwards. During your run, visualise the successful version of yourself at the top of the hill. This will help keep you going all the way up and ultimately turn that mental picture into a reality.
Running is often a difficult venture, and having the willpower to see yourself through is a crucial part of not just running, but fitness in general. We often lose sight of our ultimate goals, and while running uphill can help us achieve those goals, it’s important to keep them in mind at all times.
We’ve picked out 3 more similar articles for you to read through:
- 31 Best Motivational Running Quotes
- 9 Essential Tips for Running on the Beach
- How To Be Your Own Personal Trainer
Benefits of Running Uphill
Now that we've outlined our top tips for running uphill, let’s examine some of the benefits of running uphill in much greater detail.
#1 - Builds Strength And Speed
Something you might be wondering is whether running uphill builds muscle. The muscles used during uphill running (calves, quads, hamstrings) are the same ones used in sprinting. This exercise targets these muscles equally, as they all have to work together to push you uphill.
Building strength in your muscles will make your legs more powerful, helping you increase your speed. Strengthening the tendons and ligaments also helps reduce the risk of injury, and improves overall running form, which is crucial for running effectively.
Running uphill is great for targeting difficult-to-train muscles. While exercises such as leg extensions and squats do increase strength, they’re more likely to focus on individual joints rather than give each muscle equal care.
Hills force the muscles in your hips, legs, and ankles to contract together while supporting your body weight, allowing you to benefit from a form of calisthenics training. On uphill areas, the muscles contract with more power as they are going against gravity to push you up.
Uphill running also allows you to boost intensity while maintaining the same speed. This will increase your heart rate and depth of breathing but won’t tire you out as quickly.
#2 - Burns More Calories
If one of the reasons you’re taking up this exercise is for weight loss, then you’re probably wondering just how many calories you’ll burn running uphill. As long-distance running is already a high-intensity exercise, adding hills will increase this intensity and help you to burn more calories.
There’s quite a difference between the intensity of flat terrain and an incline of 5%. While the exact number is dependent on the individual, it’s been conservatively estimated that running uphill can burn 800 to 1,400 calories an hour, depending on the runner’s weight.
What this means is that, the heavier a person, the more calories they are likely to burn through running uphill. For example, someone who weighs 150lbs could burn around 1,000 calories from running uphill, depending on the intensity of the hills and length of time.
If you’re determined to lose weight through uphill running, why not increase the intensity of your run by turning around? There are many benefits of running backwards uphill and one thing is the number of calories burned.
Running backwards uphill is believed to burn around 30 percent more calories than running forward. However, be very careful if you’re a beginner - it’s best to familiarise yourself completely with ordinary uphill running (and your environment) before attempting this.
#3 - Builds Endurance
Your heart and lungs will thank you for adding hills into your runs. Uphill running is great for strengthening your cardiovascular system.
The intensity of the exercise means your heart and lungs must work harder to pump blood around the body and keep your breathing steady. This, in turn, will make them stronger, allowing you to push yourself longer during more intense sessions.
Building endurance trains your heart to deliver oxygen to muscles with more efficiency which improves performance. It also helps reduce the risk of heart disease by a significant percentage, as the regular usage of your heart prevents the development of the disease.
Uphill running keeps your blood flowing, helping to prevent clots in the blood vessels and arteries. However, studies are yet to discover what the ideal ‘dose’ of exercise is in order to gain the maximum cardiovascular benefits, but this doesn’t mean you should avoid the exercise.
Running uphill isn’t just beneficial for physical endurance. There’s a reason why many runners dislike hills – they’re tough. This exercise can strengthen your mind as you must overcome many mental barriers to get to the top of the hill.
There’s nothing better than the ‘runner’s high’ you feel when you hit your goals and this can be one of the best running uphill benefits. Overcoming these challenges is great for your mental health as it improves confidence and keeps you believing in yourself.
#4 - Reduces Injuries
Statistics on running injuries vary. Certain studies place the figure between 30% and 75% of runners injured annually. This is because it involves putting pressure on the same muscles and joints, especially when done regularly.
This constant repetition of the same movements can lead to a host of common issues such as shin splints (read more on shin splint prevention here), ‘runner’s knee’, and Achilles tendon pain. You may be surprised to hear a good way to prevent these kinds of injuries is by running uphill.
While this may sound counter-intuitive, as we’ve previously mentioned, adding hills to your run builds muscle. The high intensity exercise works muscles slightly quicker than flat running, getting them used to the stress and building endurance.
Running uphill can also help prevent shin splints. Many runners experience these, especially beginners, as you’re working muscles that haven’t been used before. Shin splints start as mild shin pain but if ignored and left untreated can eventually result in a stress fracture.
Running flat or downhill puts pressure on the shins, resulting from repeated pounding on the muscles and bones. While running uphill still puts stress on the legs, it can actually alleviate it because you’re pushing off from the ground rather than coming down hard on your feet.
#5 - Cures Boredom
Let’s be honest - training along the same flat terrain during every run can become pretty repetitive, especially if we struggle to diversify our routes from the same monotonous trails. While many runners dislike hills, it’s actually a great way to prevent the physical and mental burnout that may occur by staying in your comfort zone.
It’s important for runners to keep pushing themselves and what’s a better way to make your run more exciting than by adding some hills into your routine? You’ll experience new areas of the world you may never have seen before, as well as seeing the views change as you climb.
Running uphill can also lead to new fitness gains and boost confidence levels during workouts, leaving you wondering why it took so long for you to try uphill running, and how you can experience even more of these benefits of running.
With all the benefits of running uphill that we’ve touched upon, that’s perhaps one of the biggest benefits - as you start to see the additional gains that uphill running brings, you can better envisage your goals, and how you can achieve them using uphill running.
Risks of Running Uphill
While there are many benefits of running uphill, it’s important to be aware of the risks. So, before you learn how to start running uphill as a beginner, let’s take a look at some.
#1 - High-Intensity Exercise
One of the greatest risks of running uphill is the intensity of the exercise. We’ve already touched upon how intense uphill running can be, and how much pressure it can put on your muscles, especially the leg muscles.
This is why it’s important to gradually raise the steepness of the inclines. Many beginners underestimate just how intense and physically demanding uphill running can be, which can often lead to injury, unnecessary stress, and demotivation.
If you experience high levels of pain or discomfort during your ascent then it’s best to slow down, and take it at a more sedate pace for a short period in order for your body to adjust to the incline you’re moving on.
On those occasions, you may find walking uphill is better than running uphill. As long as you reach the top, there’s no shame in taking it slow. It’s best to do this than continue at a level you haven’t quite achieved yet and risk long-term injury.
#2 - Unpredictable Terrain
Every runner needs to be mindful of the terrain, whether it be uphill or flat. Even runners who only run on the best treadmills need to be aware of how the surface can affect their form and technique.
This is certainly important if you’re running ‘off road’ along hiking trails or in rural areas. Be aware of areas and hills with loose dirt or thick grass as there may be hidden rocks or roots you may not notice until it’s too late.
If the weather is wet or particularly icy, it’s best to avoid difficult terrain for uphill running. You could end up with a nasty fall or sprain your ankle, and no matter how much you practice and prepare, a patch of unseen ice can be the end of your running for a while.
As previously mentioned, this is why it’s important to keep your head forward and not focused on your feet. Stay alert of what’s in front of you, and what’s coming up ahead on your route. If anything, it will help keep your mind off the pain during the toughest stages, and give you perspective on how far you’ve got left to go.
#3 - Joint Pain
Once you start running uphill, you may hear some horror stories about how much it will damage your legs, especially your knees. This mainly stems from the fear you’re at risk of developing osteoarthritis as a result of engaging in a physically demanding exercise like uphill running.
Now, you may be wondering what exactly this is. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs when the protective cartilage that acts as a cushion at the end of bones wears down. The joints in the knees, hands, and spine are most commonly affected.
A recent research review concluded that recreational runners had a lower occurrence of osteoarthritis compared with competitive runners (professional athletes) and non-runners. These results suggest that most ordinary runners will benefit, in some way, from running uphill.
Intense uphill training a few times a week is unlikely to bring about harmful long-term problems like osteoarthritis. However, this is not to say you shouldn’t take joint pain or inflammation seriously.
Treat this by giving your legs adequate time to recover - rest days are incredibly important in all forms of exercise. Use hot and cold therapy for sore joints and muscles. You can do this by taking a warm shower or bath in the morning to ease stiffness, and applying ice packs to painful areas throughout the day for relief.
However, we would strongly advise against applying the ice directly onto the skin as this can cause ice burn.
#4 - Risk of Heart Attack
While running uphill can help make the heart stronger and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, in some circumstances it can increase the risk of a heart attack.
It’s been suggested that those who don’t engage frequently in exercise, and those with heart conditions, may be at risk of cardiovascular events when engaging in intense exercise, as their body is simply not ready for the exertion that exercise can bring.
Recent studies have recognised that sudden death from cardiac events usually occurs with a high frequency during or shortly after physical exertion, indicating a serious correlation between exercise and an increased risk of heart attack.
This can even happen to those at the peak of their physical fitness, although this is always a direct result of an undetected, serious genetic condition that has made this person more susceptible to heart issues following intensive exercise.
It’s not always obvious if a person may be at risk. Even if you feel relatively healthy, it’s important to check with your doctor or GP before you begin uphill running, especially as it is an incredibly intense form of exercise.
While these risks may sound disconcerting, the benefits of running uphill far outweigh the negatives. There are potential dangers in all fitness, and while it’s unlikely you’ll experience most of these risks, it’s best to be aware of them.
How to Start Running Uphill
Now you’ve read our tips and understand the benefits and risks, you’re probably wondering – how do I start? Following our tips below will give you a good starting point to become experienced in uphill running.
#1 - Set Yourself Goals
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced runner, you should be working towards some goals. These can be related to anything, but most people will have an ideal physique or distance aspiration.
Having a specific distance in mind or length of time you’d like to get to the top of your hill is important for keeping you motivated. If you’re just starting out, be sure to make these goals realistic ones.
Goals that are unattainable at a beginner’s level will likely dishearten you if you can’t achieve them. This will result in you putting more pressure on yourself and won’t make training enjoyable.
For even more information on how to set realistic goals, check out OriGym’s thorough guide to SMART fitness goals.
Begin by creating a weekly training plan. This will help inspire you on those bleaker days and keep you constantly working towards something. Choose an area you’d like to tackle, and gradually increase the incline once each goal is met. This will steadily build your endurance as well as confidence for when you reach the tougher hills.
#2 - Purchase Suitable Clothing
As mentioned in our tips section, having the right gear can often be a key factor in making or breaking your run.
Once you’ve created a training plan and set goals for yourself, it’s time to purchase some suitable clothing that can seriously help you towards achieving those goals.
Now, these options don’t have to be big budget, but we highly recommend a good pair of running shoes (ideally a pair of waterproof trail shoes, as these can mean you’ll still be able to go running after a rainstorm), and some lightweight pants and t-shirts.
Having the right running gear can be incredibly important, as it can not only determine how successful you ultimately are, but it can also instil confidence, and ensure you feel like the part as you get involved with uphill running.
A more basic tip is to keep hair and sweat out of your eyes by wearing headbands. Not only will the right clothing make uphill running more comfortable, it will help improve your overall performance, especially as you begin to become more competent with running uphill.
#3 - Plan Meals
When you start this high-intensity exercise, consider planning and prepping your meals. This is a great way to fuel your body with a well-balanced diet. It also helps you stick with eating healthy as your meals are already laid out, creating an organised routine which is crucial for running.
As always, fruit and vegetables are a great place to start. Things such as strawberries, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and peaches are packed with vitamins and minerals, as well as being among the best antioxidant foods (which can help prevent more serious illness and disease).
Meals that have a dense carbohydrate source (such as fish, lean beef, and wholegrain) are great for runners, as they provide slow-release energy which can be deployed throughout a run.
However, arguably the most crucial macronutrient when it comes to running is protein. Found predominantly in meat products (like chicken, turkey, and beef), protein rebuilds and repairs the muscles following intensive activity, and is one of the building blocks for achieving success with your exercise schedule.
Put simply, as you run, you break down your muscle tissue - protein helps to build it back in the right way for running.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Is Running Uphill So Hard?
Something you’re probably wondering is “why is running uphill so hard?”. Gravity is the main answer for this. It takes much more energy to push a body against it than with it.
When running flat, you bounce up and then down on each stride. When running uphill the bounce ‘up’ part is much greater, so extra energy input is required to gather potential energy. The reduced impact force is balanced out by the greater amount of power your muscles need to produce.
This is also why height and weight are a large factor for the difficulty level of uphill running. The more energy required, the tougher it will feel. Running uphill is also harder because you use the vastus muscles that make up the quads much more than when running flat. As this is a large muscle mass, more oxygen is required to keep them working efficiently.
Another factor is the psychological element. There’s a reason most people in a tower prefer taking the lift than the stairs to the top. Usually, the thought of how difficult reaching the summit will be is already established before you’ve even started running.
The steepness of the incline is exaggerated, and becomes something we dread. When starting out, we also mistakenly believe we’ll reach the top by running at the same speed the whole way up. After a couple minutes, it becomes apparent this isn’t possible.
The amount of effort and energy required for such little results can be disheartening. This is why it’s important to choose easier hills and build up to the steeper ones so your body can familiarise itself with the experience.
Is Running Uphill Good For Losing Weight?
If running uphill boosts your level of activity more than it was previously then you’ll certainly lose weight! Even running for 30 minutes will burn calories if you never previously exercised. However, if you begin running routinely over a long period for the same time and distance, your weight will eventually stabilise.
Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t burn calories; you just won’t be burning more than you did before starting. When some runners begin, they experience a boost of weight loss but find that this levels out over time, even after increasing distance or intensity.
Your body may hit a ceiling where your metabolism resists as it’s adapted to your training routine, even after increasing your calorie intake by running, or combining this with metabolism boosting foods.
It’s also important not to overcompensate with calories after a run, even though it might be tempting. Running in itself isn’t a huge calorie burner for someone who does it frequently, which is why it’s important to increase intensity by incorporating other exercises into your routine. Running uphill is a great way to do this.
By adding hills to your runs, you will burn more calories because of the physical demand, and continue to see more results than if you continue with less vigorous exercise.
Is It Better To Run Uphill Or Flat?
The uphill running vs flat running argument largely depends on your reasons for doing so. To put it bluntly, running uphill is simply harder. Of course, this isn’t to say running flat is easy. While they both fall under the same kind of exercise, there are differences.
In terms of running for weight loss, running uphill is best to mix up your routine and stop your weight loss stagnating. In terms of the average number of calories burned during various 30 minute activities, a 155-pound person running flat at 5mph should burn around 288 calories.
While this doesn’t factor in things such as terrain levels or number of days running, it does provide us with a general guideline. Running uphill is likely to burn an even greater number of calories as your body must use more energy that’s not required as much for flat running.
If you’re running simply for recreation then it mostly depends on how intense you want your run to be. Explore more in our comprehensive guide to the benefits of running on a treadmill.
It can be great to embrace a new challenge and push yourself, both physically and mentally. All kinds of running, whether uphill or flat, can improve moods and positively affect our mental health – particularly when it comes to depression and anxiety disorders.
Every runner is different so only you can decide what works better for you. If you already enjoy running long distances, why not give it a go and add some hills to your next run.
Can You Run Hills Every Day?
While it can be tempting to go uphill running every day, adequate rest and recovery time is incredibly important for any form of training, and especially so for beginners.
When your body is accustomed to regular exercise, your muscles and joints won’t need as much time to recover, but this can take time, and it is vital not to try and rush to this point.
More than anything, though, it depends on the steepness of the hills you're running, and how much you’re exerting yourself. However, we would advise against bounding up hills with exaggerated knee lifts to the point of extreme fatigue every day as this may increase your chances of injury.
Running at a leisurely pace every day up and down hilly terrain is unlikely to bring any adverse short-term or long-term effects. It’s best to limit more intensive uphill training to a few times a week. As always, listen to your body - it will most likely give you the right answer!
Before You Go!
We understand it can be overwhelming undertaking a new challenge, especially one that seems as daunting as running uphill. Hopefully, with our tips for uphill running, you now feel more confident and have a better idea about where to start.
While there are some significant risks, the running uphill benefits are worth it. Whether you’re experienced or just starting your journey, you’ll continue to improve with every run, and continue to smash past your milestones and goals.
But if you’re already a cardio champion, and want to take that passion to the next level, then a career in fitness could be ideal.
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Written by Professional S & C Coaches
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