Hills: You Got This!

This hill ain’t got nothing on me!

You’re not going to believe this, but I promise it’s true: I absolutely adore running up hills. Hills covered in mud, asphalt hills, snow-caked hills, steep hills, hills that slightly plateau and then keep going: I love them all! It’s sick, I know. But hill repeats are an integral part of my training and should be part of yours too. They help to build stamina, lung strength, leg strength, and they can provide a nice break in a training routine that has grown monotonous.

Having said that, running hills is not to be tackled willy-nilly. If a runner isn’t careful to execute proper climbing form – whether that’s during a normal run with the occasional hill or when busting out some repeats – she is risking injury. Here are a few steps to mind when executing the perfect hilly run!

  • It is important to consider body positioning for the ascent as well as the descent. When running up, be sure not to lean too far forward. You want to maintain a similar upper body angle as when you’re running on a flat surface. Bending over at the waist or hips, as many hill runners are apt to do, will put unnecessary strain on your lower back, hips, and knees, and in no way helps you get up that hill. I promise you.
  • Likewise, when descending, don’t lean back but rather slightly lean into the hill while keeping your chin parallel to the ground.
  • Maintain your stride going up and down, keeping your feet under your hips as much as possible. This will help to prevent you from falling, especially on the downhill when the momentum is taking its toll on your knees.
  • Speaking of knees, be sure not to lock them on the downhill. This could cause you fall forward, making your decent a lot faster and more painful than you anticipated.
What if I told you those were all running paths? YES! Flickr Commons image by Jiri Sebek.

Something else to keep in mind when running hill repeats is to don’t over do it. On a 3-5 mile run, I will probably do 4 or 5 repeats, depending on the length and steepness of the hill. I like to do my repeats in the middle of my run using the distance back as a bit of a cool down. The key is to listen to your body. If you notice that your form is starting to fall apart, it’s time to call it quits and head back to horizontal ground.

For those of you who live in an area where flat terrain is king, never fear. You can simulate hills on the treadmill, whether manually or using a program that is already built into the machine’s computer system. And don’t shy away from hills just because they’re covered in mud or snow. With the proper footwear, you can conquer any incline/decline you encounter; just be sure to follow all of the rules listed above. Take your time, plant your feet, maintain your form, and have fun.

For more on the benefits of running hills, check out this previous SR post by Mint.

So anyone else out there love hills or am I nuts? Got a favorite hill workout you’d like to share?

I’m a runner, CrossFitter, and coach. I write about 5ks, strength training and nutrition. My current goals are to PR in my 5k and continue to grow in my strength conditioning.

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  1. Girl, have I got some mountains in the Caribbean to sell you! And thanks for the reminder that I should be running simulated hills on a treadmill. I always forget that my treadmill goes over 2%!

        1. That’s fantastic! I’ve never gone beyond 11%, and when I say I go up to 11%, I mean that as soon as I hit it, I immediately start my descent. I’m pretty sure the 15% incline is for mountain goats and not real people.

  2. Very timely post for me. I am on the treadmill a lot due to the baby, so my coach and I have decided to turn this weakness into a strength — hills at the push of a button! What % grade are your hills typically?

    1. Hey Catnip, I’m glad this is so timely! When I’m running hills on the treadmill, I’ve gone all the way up to 12%, but that’s when I am simulating a very steep and SHORT hill repeat. Typically, I hover around a 5-6% incline for a longer, slower climb. Play around with it and see what feels right. It makes those longer winter treadmill runs a lot more bearable and – dare I say it – fun.

  3. Another good option for hills in a flat area is overpasses/bridges (so long as the have a safe pedestrian option). I’ve managed to find one that is a good length for repeats, and it has a fairly consistent gradient.

    1. Claire, you are exactly right! My only word of caution is that overpasses and bridges are much more slippery for both cars and pedestrians this time of year (if you live in colder areas), so be extra careful if you decide to take on those man-made inclines. Thanks for the suggestion!

  4. One thing I started doing a few months ago is taking the stairs at work (5 flights) and then taking 1-3 breaks to walk up and down them throughout the day. It’s so little of something extra but it helps with controlling breathing going up an incline!

    1. That’s a great idea, Ginger! Whenever I have the option of taking stairs or an elevator/escalator, I try to take the stairs. Like you said, it’s just a little something extra, but every little bit helps.