A Guide to Efficient Uphill Running

©istockphoto/SolStockRunning uphill is one of the hardest components of running to master for even the most seasoned professionals, but there are a few tricks that’ll help you conquer that mountain a little faster. If you’re going to be competitive, regular practice won’t amount to much without proper form, pacing, and breathing.

Lean Into It
A lot of runners make the mistake of bending at the waist when they try to run uphill. You do need to lean into the hill, but try to do so at your hips instead. Leaning forward at the waist actually restricts your breathing by constricting your airways. You want your chest to remain upright with your head looking approximately 30 meters in front of you, not downward. Continue to pump your arms straight forward and back while using a high knee drive to push you up the hill.

Maintain Your Effort
Whether it’s the thrill of a challenge or simply a misplaced desire to push yourself harder at the wrong time, too many runners tend to increase their effort as soon as they find themselves heading uphill. This is actually counterintuitive to progress, as it wears you out and slows you down on the way back to ground level. You want to focus on maintaining your goal pace. It’s okay to slow down a bit when you starting running uphill in order to save your energy, as you’ll generally make up the time on the way down if you increase your pace a little then instead of on the way up. Don’t overexert yourself.

Match Your Breathing
All runners know that correct breathing is essential to maximizing your performance, and as you start your march up the hill it can become harder to steady your breaths. The key is to match your breathing to your level of effort. With uphill trail running you should be exerting a moderate level of effort in most cases. One method is to perform three-step breathing, wherein you breath in for two foot strikes then exhale on the third. On the way back down you can spread out your exhales over every two steps.

Watch Your Feet
Your foot strike will determine your ability to propel yourself forward up the mountain in an effective manner, so pay close attention to where your toes are falling. As the terrain steepens you want to focus more on landing on your forefeet in order to position your center of gravity toward the slope. This’ll increase your momentum leading into the next step. A great pair of compression socks will also will help to prevent tightening in your calves and feet.

Vary Your Workouts
While trail running is usually long-distance, you should put effort into switching up your training on shorter hills. Find a steep road on which to practice your short, faster reps to help build up your strength. Alternatively, you can find a larger hill and perform regular drills of five minutes to up your endurance. Of course, you’ll also want to hit the mountains and practice your running skills uphill over long distances, about 60 minutes at a time.