Hill running benefits
Hill running will make you a stronger and faster runner. Most runners do not like running uphill since it is a lot harder than running on flat ground. However, hard work pays off.
A well-planned training plan that includes hill running can significantly improve the performance of middle- and long-distance runners. Because of that, it is desirable to include hill running into your training plan.
Research has shown that 12 weeks of hill running can significantly improve endurance and speed endurance, lower the resting pulse rate, and improve the maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) of middle- and long-distance runners.
It is interesting to note that all the improvements were achieved without increasing the risk of injury.
1. Improves strength
Hill training is a specific type of strength training for runners. Your own weight and gravity provide you the resistance that you have to overcome. For that reason, by running uphill you activate your lower body muscles more efficiently in comparison to running on flat ground, strengthening them in the process.
Likewise, hill training strengthens the upper part of your body and activates your core since your arms work harder than when you run on flat ground.
Hill running is not an adequate replacement for strength training. Therefore, keep it in your training plan.
2. Improves speed
By increasing strength, hill running will improve running speed. As you strengthen your hamstrings and gluteal muscles, you will be able to grab the surface beneath you more efficiently and, with that, run faster.
Also, uphill running is performed on the balls of your feet. That way you build strength that enables you a more explosive push off from the ground. By running on the balls of your feet, you spend less time on the surface and, as such, you run faster.
In 2007, scientists from Ryukoku University from Japan set a high-tech video camera on the 15-kilometer-section of the elite half marathon race and recorded the steps of 283 runners. The research has shown that the average runner who lands on the midfoot spends 183 milliseconds on the ground, while the average runner who lands on their heels spends 200 milliseconds on the ground. Shorter contact with the surface results in faster and more economic running.
3. Improves endurance and speed endurance
Hill running does not only improve speed but also endurance and speed endurance.
Uphill running is more challenging than running on flat ground. Running uphill increases the number of heartbeats per minute and makes the lungs work harder. With time, you will improve endurance and increase the maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max).
By running uphill regularly, you will improve the aerobic and anaerobic threshold, which is especially important for middle- and long-distance runners. After some time, you will be surprised how easier it becomes to run on flat ground.
4. Increases cadence
In order to beat the slope, running should be performed with smaller steps. That way you don’t overstride while running uphill and you don’t run on your heels. With that you develop proper ground contact in running, landing your foot on the ground directly beneath you. That helps maintain the momentum and avoid a slowdown, while also increasing cadence (number of steps in a minute).
Research has shown that increasing cadence by 10% results in 5% less stress on the knees. That way, the risk of the usual running injuries of the hip and knees Is lowered.
5. Improves running technique
While running uphill, you are forced to run with a more proper technique than when you run on flat ground:
- you naturally raise your knees higher
- you do not run on your heels, but on the balls of your feet (depends on the incline)
- you hold your body upright, slightly leaning forward
- you move your upper body optimally, meaning that you work with your arms more intensively
As such, uphill running improves your running technique, making you run properly on flat ground as well.
6. Improves running economy
Improvements in strength and running technique and the increase in cadence all result in improved running economy, meaning that you become able to keep the same pace while losing less energy.
Research conducted on 20 long-distance runners has shown that six weeks of uphill running at high-intensity intervals improves your running economy. On average, runners were 2% faster in 5K runs.
Research at the University of Stockholm has shown that marathon runners who practiced hill running two times a week over the course of three months improved their running economy by 3%. This means that, on average, they ran two minutes faster in 10K runs and 6 minutes when running marathons.
Furthermore, another research has shown that training on a treadmill with an incline is effective at improving running economy.
7. Reduces the risk of injury
Uphill running helps reduce the risk of injury by decreasing joint load when compared to running on flat ground. Stress is lowered on the shins, ankle joints, and knees since the returning force is lower with every step uphill.
When running uphill, the returning force is lower on landing, allowing your muscles to act as shock absorbers more easily. That way, they are more capable of absorbing impact and stress to protect your bones and joints.
On the other hand, the returning force is strong on landing when you run downhill. Due to that, be careful and run at a slower pace to avoid increasing the risk of injuries. Despite that, slower downhill runs are a great way to strengthen and adapt leg muscles to stress to better absorb impact.
8. Improves neuromuscular coordination
Due to the higher intensity of it, running uphill forces you to use your arms more intensively. While running, you naturally coordinate the movements of your upper and lower parts of the body and thus maintain your balance.
The more intensely you work with your arms, the faster your legs will move, resulting in better communication between nerves and muscles.
By accelerating the impulses that send signals to your muscle fibers, your muscles will become more coordinated for more intense training or a race.
9. Breaks the monotony of training
In order to progress when training, diversity is important. With time, your body will adapt to a certain type of stress and your results will stagnate. By combining different types of training and setting different requirements for your body, you will progress in training.
By including hill running into your training plan, you will break the monotony of your training. You will also change the location of running, making the training more interesting. Besides, you will also enjoy the beautiful view from the top.
10. Prepares you for a race
If you are preparing for a race that includes inclines, it is important to train on similar terrain. That way, you will be more prepared for the race and slopes will not seem so intimidating.
In the announcement for a race, look for track configuration and try to find a similar route for training.
Not only does hill running prepare you for racing across hilly terrain, but you also feel its benefits when racing on flat ground. Body stress caused by uphill running and the tolerance to increased strain on the body and nervous system will elevate your threshold for pain and discomfort, while also increasing your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max).
11. Improves mental strength
One of the reasons why some runners dislike hill running and are prone to avoid it is because it requires a lot more effort than running on flat ground.
Running uphill is a lot more demanding and stressful, but overcoming the slopes strengthens your confidence and mental strength. With regular hill running, after some time, you will move your pain threshold and will be able to endure a lot more discomfort.
By including hill training into your training plan, you will improve strength and running technique, which will significantly improve your confidence at a race.
12. Burns more calories
An advantage of hill running is that you will burn more calories than when running on flat ground. When you run uphill, you work against gravity, using your bodyweight for resistance. Due to increased exertion, more energy is needed. The more energy you put in, the more calories you burn.
The number of calories you burn depends on the incline, but also some other factors. In any case, by adding hill running into your training plan you will increase your potential for burning fat.
The steeper it is, the more energy is needed to overcome the slope. As a result of that, you will burn a greater number of calories.
13. Intended for middle- and long-distance runners
Hill running is intended for middle- and long-distance runners. Regardless of whether you are preparing for a 5K run or a marathon, it is desirable to add hill running into your training plan.
Because of its numerous advantages, hill running is great regardless of whether you are preparing for a race on flat or hilly ground.
If you are a beginner, be careful when adding hill running into your training plan. Start with shorter, less intense slopes and gradually increase the number of repetitions and distance.
14. Can be done on a treadmill
If you live in an area where there are no slopes, you can do hill running on a treadmill.
The advantage of hill running on a treadmill is that you can set the exact parameters of workout and not depend on the weather.
Perhaps it is hard to find a hill with a steady incline, but with the help of a treadmill, you have that possibility. By setting a specific incline, distance, and running pace, you can create desired conditions.
Disadvantages of a treadmill are that it doesn’t allow you to run on a curvy terrain or run downhill. Likewise, running in a closed space is monotonous and most runners are not drawn to it.
Regardless of everything, if you can, I recommend that you run in nature!