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Running on Hills

running up hill

I recently posted a question on our Precision Facebook account: "What topics are you most interested in learning about?" I had two responses. At first, I was so sad that more people didn't respond, but then I quickly changed my mindset and told myself it was great that I got two responses!

This blog post is the result of one of those responses: Someone asked how to run hills correctly. I will cover the other response in my next next blog. 

Running hills can be a tricky thing. 

Running form is a hot topic and has been talked about at great length. I have written several posts related to running form: How to run with a strollerBreathing and Running and Ask the Doc: Running Form. My colleague, Dr. Dustin Lee, wrote one about Breaking Down Your Running Form a few months ago. 

Many other clinicians and coaches have written about form; the research has been extensive, and there are form classes and workshops everywhere. But there is not a lot of information about running up and down hills. In fact, there is next to nothing out there!

Why? Honestly, I think it is because there isn't a lot of research about it yet, and people assume that running up hills and running down hills are the same. They are not. In Atlanta, all we have are hills - they are everywhere you turn. 

There are three things I think everyone should consider when running uphill. At first glance, they may appear to be the same thing - they are similar, but each one has slightly different benefits.

1. Look at the hill ahead of you and not down at your feet: This is important because your head, and therefore your body, follows your eyes. If you look down, you will begin leaning too far forward, and the good running posture you had on the flat road below is all but gone. Hunching over will impact what muscles you use and how you are breathing. 

2. Stand tall: Keeping an erect posture will allow you to tap into your core musculature better, facilitate better leg turnover and get your glutes firing better. 

3. Don't bend from your hips; lean from your ankles: This is similar to running on flat surfaces. It is also a hot debate in the world of running research (yes, we are that nerdy). Regardless, leaning from the ankles and not from your hips will prevent you from overloading your lumbar spine (back) and nervous system. People who lean too far forward from their hips often notice back pain or increased tightness in the hamstrings and calf muscles because they are stressing their nervous system. 


What about running downhill? Even though running uphill feels harder on your cardiovascular system (heart rate, breathing etc.), running downhill is more taxing on your musculoskeletal system. This is because running downhill is an eccentric activity. Your muscles are slowly lengthening, and micro tearing occurs with every step. Here are a few pointers for downhill running that may help you avoid injury. 

1. Relax into the hill; don't fight it: The more you tense up and fight it, the harder you make it, and the more energy you use. If you stiffen up too much, you may unconsciously stop bending your knees, reach too far forward with your foot and increase the impact to your entire lower extremity. 

2. Look down at the hill, not your feet: As I said, your head follows your eyes. Looking down will cause you to change your posture. This may decrease your ability to use your core and may even inhibit your hamstrings, glutes and calf muscles. 

3. Land on the middle of your foot: As you are going downhill, you may pick up speed and lose a little control. Often when this happens, the first thing to occur is that your stride will get too long, and you will inevitably land on your heel. Landing on your heel is not a sin, but landing on your heel with your knee straight is! Many injuries can stem from this landing position. To prevent this from happening, attempt to land with the middle of your foot striking the ground. 

Hopefully, these tips will help you enjoy running hills (they are my favorite!) without setting yourself up for injury. 


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