Uphill & Downhill Running Technique

Jun 12, 2012   //   by James Dunne   //   Running Technique Advice  //  5 Comments

Tips For Successful Hill Running

Almost every runner we work with at some point asks about how their new, more efficient running technique applies when running uphill and downhill.

There are some great cues and concepts to take note of when it comes to successful hill running. Get these right, and you’ll gain minutes on a hilly run course, and also benefit from even pacing on race day.

Even Effort Concept For Running Hills

A very important element of efficiently running uphill and downhill is the concept of even effort.

Your goal when faced with a hill should be to expend only slightly more effort when running uphill than you would when running on a flat surface. Equally, you shouldn’t be expending very much less energy when running downhill.

For most runners, this means learning to relax and take it easy when running uphill (rather than attacking). When running downhill, again go against the normal tendencies to hold back, and just let your self go.

This approach allows you to reach the top of the hill feeling good, without excessive exertion. Then you can let the hill (gravity) work for you on the way downhill. Resulting in an even effort.

Running Cadence & Stride Length

Central to the even effort concept of running technique for hills is your running cadence (stride frequency).

Ideally, you need to be trying to run with a relatively even cadence uphill, downhill and on the flat. Therefore, to vary your uphill and downhill speeds, achieving even effort, you will have to adjust your stride length. You will need to use a full range of stride lengths, from very short steps (up a steep hill), to very long strides (down a moderate hill).

I like to use a cycling analogy to explain this:

Cycling uphill in a high gear with a low cadence is much harder work (and less sustainable) than using a low gear at a high cadence… Try it! You will understand the importance of maintaining leg motion.

When you run you can “shift gears” just like cycling, by shortening or lengthening your stride.

Hill Running Technique Tips

Uphill Running Technique:

  • Create short strides (baby steps) “spinning” uphill
  • Increase the power of your arm drive, keeping them moving backwards and forwards
  • Maintain a tall posture and stay relaxed
  • Look towards the crest of the hill, not at your feet

Downhill Running Technique:

  • Allow your stride to lengthen as you build speed, but not at the expense of cadence
  • Land on the balls of your feet with your knees bent. This will reduce impact on the knees
  • Hold a wider arm position, rotating more than at other times when running (if needed). This will help you balance.
  • Go for it! You can run faster than you think and still maintain control

Learn From Trail & Ultra Runners:

World-class Trail Runners and Ultra Runners are experts at running efficiently up and down hills. Watch the videos below for some great hill running tips.

About The Author

James has an academic background in Sport Rehabilitation and a special interest in Applied Biomechanics. He currently coaches a large number of Runners and Triathletes across all levels of ability and performance. He's grown a strong reputation for enabling athletes to improve their running performance and overcome running injuries through improving their Running Technique and developing Running Specific Strength.

 

5 Comments

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  • Good info! There seems to be precious little out there specifically on downhill technique. I think it’s one of the harder techniques to master, esp. In minimal shoes – seems to be very hard on the soles with the shearing forces involved.

  • Im in hopes of finding out how to keep my left leg quad from injury ! Im a new runner and in my 40′s . Im not in the greatest shape but better than last year . I ran my first 12 K a couple of weeks ago .
    I have noticed a pain in only one leg , left leg quad muscles in back of leg . At times the pain shoots though the bottom of my foot or the palm of my left hand.
    I read that running down hill helps ? My concern is running up the hill to get down it :)
    Any ideas ? Im seeing a chiropractor .
    Thank you , I want to run Ronda ~

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  • […] TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL HILL RUNNING […]

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