Hill Running. What’s the big dealio?


I have told my intermediate running group time and time again how good it is to run in D-Town because it’s hilly – and clearly hill running is the bees knees. They tend to roll their eyes and grunt in frustration as we’re usually pounding up/down a hill at the time, but I’m sure in their minds they’re thinking ‘man, she is so wise, we are so lucky to have such a wise leader’.


The basic idea behind hill running in my mind is simple: it’s much harder to run up and down hills, which strengthens your  muscles, and means that not only will you be faster running on the flat surfaces, but you’ll also find it easier. Hill running is basically weight training whilst running – except that you’re also supporting your body weight at the same time, where as weights at the gym focus on muscle groups in isolation of your running. This is very good if you want to look like this:

Here we have Jay Cutler, a Mr Olympia champion, keeping it real at the gym

Here we have Jay Cutler, a Mr Olympia champion, keeping it real at the gym


But not so helpful if you want to do this:


And here is Kipsang just casually winning the London Marathon

And here is Kipsang just casually winning the London Marathon


The question is, how do you do it? Hill running isn’t easy, and puts your body under more strain than usual. So what secret techniques are there to help? Over the years I’ve picked up a few things, so here is my list:


Running Down Hill


When you run down hill, your muscles lengthen as you take your step. This puts your legs under more strain than regular running, and also causes tiny tears in your muscle fibres. Remember – the repairing of these tiny tears is what helps our overall fitness, which is how hill running is helpful. In addition to this, you’re also running with gravity, which will make you run faster than you naturally would, again stressing your body as you hit the ground harder.


When running down hill:

  • Run on a soft surface if available: the grass alongside the footpath is perfect for this. The softer surface will absorb some of the impact for you
  • Keep your feet under your body when you step rather than stride down – again, this will reduce the impact you feel in your legs, and it’s not necessary to use the knees to drive you forwards so much when running downhill
  • Tread lightly – keep your contact time with the ground to a minimum, landing on your mid foot rather than your heel
  • Lean forwards. This may seem counterintuitive – but it actually lessens the impact because your weight isn’t being pushed through your legs as you lean back to brake. Leaning forward slightly will help you stay smooth, and will help you use gravity as an advantage rather than as a hinderance. Different sources suggest leaning forwards from the hips or the ankles – but they all seem to agree it shouldn’t be from your shoulders. Personally, I think I do hips…
  • Watch your gaze – you should be looking at the hill surface, not at your feet. Keep your gaze about 1-2 metres ahead of where you’re running
  • If you find you’re going fast, then hold your arms out by your side for balance  rather than keeping them close. For me this really works: it slows me down, and engages my core more which helps stabilise me too. I do feel like a muppet when I’m doing this – arms flailing all over the place – but it really helps. And it’s the same principle as pole: if you’re spinning too fast, stick a limb out…
  • Also, if you’re going too fast, focus on those shorter strides until you feel that you’ve re-gained control
Why look at that downhill form there.

Why look at that downhill form there.


Running Up Hill


There may be some of the same characters in this list, but they will feel completely different to downhill when you put them into practice. Uphill running means that you’re running against gravity, which requires more effort, and your muscles contract. You also put more strain on your calf muscles. The result is a more powerful stride overall.



  • Aim for the same amount of effort running up the hill as on the flats - not the same pace
  • Shorten those strides again, and keep contact with the ground small so that you feel light on your feet
  • The short strides will help you maintain your breathing rhythm, which is very helpful. During the uphill, you’re probably relying on anaerobic respiration, so deep breathing will help mitigate the effects
  • Again, your gaze should be 1-2 metres in front of you so that your lungs are open and ready for oxygen!
  • Use your arm swing to help your momentum. Focus on pulling back rather than pushing forwards, and make sure your arms swing straight rather than across your body
  • Sometimes I find it helps to put my hands on my hips for a bit, which seems to focus all the efforts through your legs. I’m not sure how it helps, but it works for me. But only for short bursts: then go back to driving your arms
  • Try to maintain your overall running rhythm rather than slowing it down (smaller steps will help)
  • Lean into the hill, but not so much that it constricts your leg movement or shifts your centre of gravity forwards



So that’s hill running for you. I found that hill running has really helped my overall strength and stamina – and when you run anywhere that’s flat, it will seem like a breeze. Hopefully. A few hill reps is a great way of getting in a serious workout in less time too, so good  if you’re pushed for time. And honestly – there’s nothing like a hard hill session to make you feel like a hero at the end. A bloody hero. As long as you can push through the bit in the middle where you just. want. to. stop.


Enjoy those hills!! Let me know how you get on…


Ellie B




  1. Anon. (no date specified). Everything You Need to Know About Hill Running [WWW]. Available from: http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/general/everything-you-need-to-know-about-hill-training/159.html [Accessed: 16th September]
  2. Anon. (no date specified). The Proper Technique for Running Uphill and Downhill [WWW]. Available from: http://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/hill-running-form/ [Accessed: 16th September 2014]
  3. Jhung, L. (2010). Tips for Running Uphill [WWW]. Available from: http://www.runnersworld.com/trail-running-training/going?page=2 [Accessed: 17th September 2014] 
  4. Karp, J. (no date specified). 6 Tips to Improve Your Downhill Runs [WWW]. Available from: http://www.active.com/fitness/articles/6-tips-to-improve-your-downhill-runs [Accessed: 16th September 2014]
  5. Kuzma, C. (2014). Three Tips for Running Downhill [WWW]. Available from:http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/three-tips-for-running-downhill [Accessed 18th September 2014]
  6. Shaw, J. (2014). Perfect your downhill running form [WWW]. Available from: http://running.competitor.com/2014/07/training/perfect-your-downhill-running-form_52804 [Accessed 18th September 2014]