I often run a 3-mile loop near my home that takes me through a small nature preserve. As someone who has never sought access to a gym or treadmill, running outside is the only way I ever really run. So terrain changes, such as inclines or declines, don’t stand out to me. But sometimes my neighbor runs with me, and he often comments about the hills throughout the path. It got me thinking about running hills in general. I love my 3 mile loop—running outdoors is just so therapeutic!—but I wondered, is there a benefit to running hills?
According to research, yes! Running hills can increase endurance, strengthen muscles (quads, calves, glutes), burn fat and may prevent future running injury.
Hill running can increase a runner’s endurance because hills are intense! Hill running is explosive and powerful, and helps improve anaerobic capacity, V02 max (maximum oxygen intake, also known as the single biggest physiological indicator of endurance performance), and speed. I personally don’t run for any specific reason, but if I ever decide to run a race, it’s nice to know running hills increases endurance.
When you propel your body up a hill, the muscles in your glutes/hips, legs, ankles, and feet powerfully contract as they fight against gravity to move you forward. My resolution this year has been to incorporate more strength training into my fitness routine. So it is encouraging to understand how one form of exercise, like hill running, can enable me to check several boxes on my fitness to-do’s. Cardio? Check. Strength? Check!
Warmer weather is upon us whether you’re ready or not. Running hills is a great way to burn fat and kick start your metabolism to feel your best for swimsuit weather, if that’s what you’re into.
Prevent future injury
Running is a repetitive behavior, which can lead to overuse injuries. Incorporating hill training into my regimen is a great way to keep things interesting and ensure my muscles aren’t constantly running the same route and pace. If there aren’t any hilly areas available to you, consider running different elevations, wearing different shoes, running on different terrain and incorporating sprints into your sessions. Changing up our fitness routines not only keeps us from feeling burned out or bored, but it helps protect our bodies from potential injury. And, despite challenging you and increasing your performance, running hills does not increase your risk of injuries compared to non-hill training.
And personally, I find I enjoy running hills because it is a great place to throw frustration or anxiety. Feeling salty about work or frustrated with your significant other? Find yourself a good steep hill. Stand at the bottom and look up at it. Think to yourself, I’m a boss and I’m going to win this hill. Run as fast as you can up the hill, and check in with yourself afterwards. Are you feeling less frustrated? Are you feeling more confident? Maybe repeat a few times. Hill running is a great way to remind ourselves just how strong we are.
Photo: Cameron Venti via Unsplash