Running Form on Hills

While not everyone can be the running equivalent of Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, dancing on his pedals as he climbs the Alps and the Pyrenees with the ease of a mountain goat, we all will encounter hills in our running, and probably all could use a periodic refresher on how to get the most out of our efforts on the ascents.

With the climb or descent looming ahead, what should you be advising yourself as you prepare to for the challenge ahead? Read on for a few simple cues....

1.  The basics of general good running form almost all still apply.  Keep your arms at 90 degrees (click here to review our column on What To Do With Your Arms) and keep your shoulders low (not hunched) and square to the direction you are heading.  Keep your hands relaxed and swinging through your "pockets", and maintain tall posture.

2.  Don't lean too far into the hill on the ups or too far back on the downs.  Try to maintain a slight lean forward (long lean from the ankle, not the waist) both up and down, just as you would on the flats.  Leaning too far forward on the uphill restricts the ability of your knees to drive and can compromise your ability to maximize your inhales if you are hunched over.  Stay tall, open up your chest, and give your legs and lungs room to work.  On the downhills, braking yourself by leaning backward puts unnecessary stress on your muscles and joints, and often squanders a chance to make up ground in a race.  A little forward lean, when not on an area with dangerous footing, can help get you a couple seconds closer to that PR, and leave you a bit less sore the day after.

3. Concentrate on cadence.  Resist the urge to overstride on the downhills, and do your best just to maintain your rhythm on the uphills. Yes, you will be going faster than the flats on the downhills and slower than the flats on the uphills if you maintain a similar rhythm and effort level, but you will also most likely arrive at the top of the hill without wasting a bunch of energy for little advancement, and keeping your stride landing underneath your body on the downhills instead of in front will minimize excess pounding.

4.  Don't spend a lot of time on the ground.  Keep your feet pushing off of the ground quickly, just as you would on the flat. For those used to heelstriking on the flats, hills can be a valuable tool to build foot and calf strength as you land more on your midfoot than you might normally.  On the uphills, it should almost feel like your feet are striking the ground behind you.  On the downhills try (as we have discussed), to let your feet land underneath you so you do not have to wait to let your body travel over the top before pushing off again.

5.  Look ahead.  Sure, it is tempting to look at your feet and make sure your legs are doing what we have just been talking about, but looking several steps ahead will help you anticipate any undulations in the hill ahead, any poor footing areas requiring caution, and will keep your posture tall (more air in the lungs!)  and your arms at the right angles.  

This fall, may you approach every hill with anticipation and crest the top with satisfaction!

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