Depending on the hill’s steepness, running uphill can be challenging for runners of every level. If there are big hills during a race, they can make or break your day.

In this section, we will examine the benefits of hill workouts and how they can help your overall performance.

Running hills is a pure strength workout that is better than any  workout that you can do in the gym. It also works the core muscles which is also important.

Hills also work different  muscles in the leg. This helps to disperse the workload and will help prevent injury.

 Hill workouts all have one thing in common with Intervals and Tempo runs: they all improve the cardio system.

Here is a quick primer on the Circulatory system.

The cardiovascular system, also known as the circulatory system, is responsible for circulating blood from the heart to the lungs to pick up oxygen. The oxygenated blood is then pumped by the heart through arteries to the various parts of the body. The veins carry deoxygenated blood back to the heart, completing the circulation process.

Running up steep and/or long uphills helps by stressing the heart muscle. Specifically, it targets two components many people haven’t heard of. Heart stroke Volume (The amount of blood flowing through the heart at any given moment) and Heart stroke endurance ( The amount of time the heart can go to near-max levels before fatigue sets in).

The measure of one’s aerobic fitness level is called VO2 max. Simply put, the higher your VO2 max, the faster you can run. However, having a higher VO2 max is only one part of the equation. For example, if you took an Olympic athlete with an extremely high VO2 max and had them run a marathon, they would most likely struggle. Even Lance Armstrong, who has a high VO2 max, said that his first NYC marathon was one of the hardest things he has ever done.

So it is also important to focus on Heart Stroke endurance.

In workouts, Run harder on the Uphill’s and relax on the Downhills.

In a Race Do not Push on the Uphill’s and generate more speed on the downhills.

Hill Workouts

During training, it is more advantageous to push yourself harder while running on uphill terrain and use the downhill sections to recover. This method helps to increase cardiovascular stress, which mimics tough speed workouts without putting too much strain on your legs. Running uphill also enhances overall leg strength by working slightly different muscles. The ultimate goal of sustained uphill running is to extend the time a runner can maintain being in oxygen debt, which is equivalent to a hard tempo run or speed workout on the track without causing too much damage to the muscles. 

Again, stronger arm action will help keep your momentum up the hill. It is also important to keep a higher cadence with you arms.
This will help shorten your stride. Depending on the steepness of the hill, your stride will naturally shorten. 

Race Day

On race day, the object is to get to the finish line as quickly as you are capable. Expending a lot of energy on steep hills is counter-productive to that goal. Many runners try to keep their target pace on the uphills. This is a mistake. One should maintain effort, not pace while going uphill.

If it is a severe uphill, it may be better for slower runners to walk rather than to run. There are many benefits to this strategy of running to effort and not pace. At the top of the hill, you will be more rested relative to all the people around you. This allows you to run immediately at your regular pace. You will instantly find yourself passing fatigued runners. If the uphill turns into a downhill, you will have all this extra energy to attack the downhill. This is where you generate true speed. If you spend a good portion of a downhill recovering from the effort of an uphill, you have wasted a good portion of your run where you can knock off those precious seconds.

Photo by Michael Lohr Photography

The Positive Mental aspects of Hill Running


In the beginning hills suck. There is no way around it. But as you get those muscles in shape and get used to your rhythm you need to get up the hill at a steady pace. One day you find one of the greatest joys of the week is to get to the top of that large mountain or hill and to be able to see the world below you. Outside of racing, this is one of the highlights of life. Best of all it is free.

Hill Running during races For Competitive Runners

During a race, generally the goal is to get to the start and finish in the quickest time possible.  This isn’t always true at the Higher Levels. Sometimes where you place is more important  than the overall time. For this reason, the way a person runs Hills may, at times, be different then from a runner who is trying to get to the finish line as fast as possible. The general strategy for the race is to get up the hill as relaxed as possible without spending excess energy. This allows you to have more energy for the downhills where you can generate more speed. With this strategy,  you will not have to spend any time recovering from the uphill portion of the run. You will not only make up time but, by running downhill strong you can knock off additional time.
However, if you are in the lead pack, it may be more important to stay with the leaders than to break contact and find yourself running alone.  
More importantly, at the later stages of the race if you are a strong runner, a hill may be the place where it is good to throw a few good surges to knock others out of their comfort zone. 
For stronger runners an easy way to quicken the tempo is to focus on driving the use of the arms. If you quicken the turnover rate of the arms, the turnover rate of the legs will naturally follow. This is an efficient way to throw in a surge without use of too much additional energy.  Try to back out of a surge before you go into true oxygen debt.  This will allow you to throw the second or third surge in sooner. By doing repeated surges, one can know a competitor out of the race by breaking his rhythm and sending him into Oxygen debt

Using your Arms

Regardless of whether you are running uphill or downhill, it is important to maintain good arm action. The arms play a crucial role in driving the body forward, especially when running uphill. To optimize your performance on uphill sections, keep your arms close to your body and swing them slightly upward in the forward motion. This motion will help lift your knees and increase your speed up the hill.

 Unlike running downhill, where the arms are out and used to balance your body, the arms are tighter to your body. Here is one trick. On the forward swing, drive the hands slightly upward. This should be about 6 inches or so forward and upward from your normal swing. This helps lift your knees every so slightly. Better knee lift leads to better speed up the hill. Hill workouts are also a good place to practice focus. It is important to try and maintain a rhythm, even though the body may have other ideas.

Go to the  link for more information about running with your arms

Different types of Hill workouts


There are essentially three types of hill workouts.

1. Normal runs that have both uphill’s and downhills.

 It is great to run on terrain that has both up hills and downhills.

2, Long sustained up hills, preferably 800-1500ft in elevation change.
In the Phase of training for runners under 2 hours for the Half marathon, It is great to add one giant hill run a week.

Don’t worry about pace. If it is a huge hill and you are completely speat and out of breath at the top then you have picked the right place. Hopefully there is a great view like the one in the picture on this page. The endorphins aside from race day, when you get to the top are unmatched.
it is important to take it VERY easy on the downhills. There aren’t any benefits with trying to run easy downhill, so don’t do it.


3, Short runs up a moderate incline.

These targeted runs are a great addition in the workout phase.

There isn’t any set formula. The workout is often dictated by the type of hill that is available.

The time can vary from 20 seconds to 2 minutes.
The number of intervals can vary from 6-24.
The general goal is to be maxed out on breathing when you get to the top. 
Turn around and either walk or take a slow jog back to the bottom. Then go back up again.

For runners who are in shape, I don’t consider these hard workouts perse, even though they may be tough. If you are in shape, they really do not cause much damage to the legs.



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