how to run hills

Fact: It’s frustrating to read directions that seem obvious to everyone but you. (Like when a recipe tells you to fold in the cheese.) That’s why we’re continuing our Back to Basics series. We break down running lingo and offer easy-to-understand tips to help you build—and maintain!—a solid running foundation. Whether you’re a newbie in your first pair of running shoes or a veteran with multiple races under your hydration belt, everyone will benefit from the advice offered here.

Up first: How to run hills by Jessica Hofheimer, coach of our traditional half-marathon and marathon plans.

If you want to build strength (both physical and mental) and get faster, head for the hills! Hills are one of the very best ways to strengthen your legs, improve your running mechanics, and grow more resilient mentally. To incorporate them into your training, begin by adding short hill strides (20-30 seconds, 4-5 times with 1:00 jog or walk recoveries) to your easy runs one or two days a week. As you adapt to those challenges, you can gradually increase the time and do longer hill repeats as speed workouts.

Here are a few tips to ensure you get the most out of running hills:

1. It’s all about the effort, not the pace. Focus on effort, not pace. When running hills, do not aim for a specific pace. Instead, tune in to working hard (with the intensity you’d bring to a shorter race distance, depending on the length of the hill) and maintaining that effort. Running is truly all about managing your effort, and no place is this more true than when running up a hill.

2. Think about your form. Hills are a great way to train efficient form and improve your running economy. It’s important when running them to think about your form (don’t think about your grocery list) and practice keeping your gaze forward (not down); your chest open with your shoulders down and back so you’re not hunching over; and leaning forward into the hill from your ankles. Engage your deep core muscles and use the power of your arms while working your glutes to drive your knees up on the hill, being careful not to run on your toes. These muscles are all sources of power and using them will make you even stronger!

3. Take quick steps—fast, not forced. Keep your feet beneath your hips, and focus on a light, powerful, and quick cadence. You want to think about taking fast steps, never ones that are forced or strained.

Don’t let the hills scare you. Now you know how to tackle them and use those inclines to your advantage!

[For more Back to Basics, head here.]

Which tip are you eager to implement?
Tell us about it in the comments below!