The Do’s and Don’ts
of Hill Training

An Inquiry into Power, Form, and Balance.


Do you hate running uphill?  

If you hate hills, you aren’t alone. Most athletes in the sport of long distance running, hate doing hills.
Their aversion prevents them from roaming hilly areas for pure enjoyment, if not to simply get where they want to go.
This course on the “Do’s and Don’ts of Hill Training” will teach you about power, form, and balance so you can enjoy doing hills.

Please click the unit icons below to watch the program videos.  Then, while you train, see about listening to the Wisdom Topics (below).
A wisdom topic is a short audio reminder of how to run hills enjoyably, sustainably, and without discomfort or injury.

Unit One. Building Power.

How hard do you need to run to build muscle strength (power) for running?
Most athletes think they should run harder than they need to, which is why they hate running hills.
So, which do you suppose is the right exertion level on this scale? Gentle, Held-back, Relaxed, Pressed, Forced, Strained.
The answer, and the first step in your transformation from beginner to advanced athlete, is in the first lesson.

Click image to watch Unit 1

Unit Two.  Correcting Form.

Running seems so simple, yet there are postural aspects that advanced runners do habitually and beginners fail to practice out of ignorance.
In Unit Two, you’ll learn to use correct posture to make your running faster, easier, and more powerful than you thought possible.
Do you know, for instance, that simply watching your spot on the ground 5-6 feet ahead can make your stride more powerful?

Click image to watch Unit 2

Unit Three.  Creating Balance.

“Balanced” is the way you feel when your core is aligned properly with your arms, legs, and head.
In Unit Three, you’ll learn a quick-and-easy technique for producing a powerful and efficient stride.
In the process you’ll optimize your stride-length so your lead foot lands in a powerful “take-off” position, without over-striding.

Click image to watch Unit 3

Wisdom Topics.

The following wisdom topics represent the 50-year experience of BC Endurance Trainings on the subject of effective hill training.

Hill Training Context

Hill training is an opportunity to build power, meaning muscle strength in your legs—especially the prime-mover muscles on the back of your legs: the calves, the hamstrings, and butt muscles.

    • Hills also allow you to go places you wouldn’t otherwise explore, discover, and enjoy.  You don’t have to repeat the same hill. Think of hills as simply in the way of where you intend to go. A hilly route should be as enjoyable as a flatter route.
    • Most people don’t enjoy going uphill because they go too fast. Our purpose in this course is to learn to run hills correctly so you enjoy the activity, instead of dreading it.  Thus, the first thing you should do on a hill is slow down and relax your moving body.
    • Of course, the faster you do a hill the sooner you’ll get to the top. But that logic prevents you from thoroughly enjoying hills. Counter-intuitively, you must slow down so you get to the top happier and without the negative repercussions of a pressing effort.
Hill Training—the right-exertion rule

Certification in this program requires that you know this rule. It’s one of several rules for structuring exertion in order to build fitness ability. You must obey this rule to make progress in the fitness game. And the rule is “Relax; don’t press.”

  • No matter how steep or gradual the grade, you must adjust your pace so you feel relaxed on the following scale: gentle, held-back, relaxed, pressed, forced, strained.  Bad things can happen when you break this rule; that’s what makes it a worthy rule.
  • The power component of exertion measures the amount of muscle strength you are using to generate and sustain your pace on a hill. Being relaxed is a set of physical sensations which are different in degree from the adjacent held-back and pressed levels.
  • Power is also an ability, as you’ll learn later in our course on the hard-easy system.  The more you do hills at a relaxed (enjoyable) level, the stronger your legs become and the easier the same hill seems at the old pace. Are “easy” hills an oxymoron?
Finding the Relaxed Level

    The grade of the hill is not as important as the way you run a hill. Again, pay attention to the amount of muscle strength you are applying to the run, and the physical distinctions between holding yourself back, running relaxed, and pressing the pace.

    • Start walking or jogging at your slowest possible pace, which is the “gentle” level. The trick is to take very-short steps. Then increase your pace until you are “holding back.”  You have to consciously keep from slipping into “relaxed” mode. Precision stepping.
    • Then increase your pace again to the “relaxed” level. You’re there when you can forget you’re on a hill. Of course, the steeper the hill, the slower you must go to remain relaxed. It’s okay to walk or slow jog.  Notice your mental resistance to slowing down.
    • Hold your posture as you focus on a short-quick, yet natural footfall. Occasionally, try “pressing” the pace briefly to see what that feels like. Repeat this process until you know what each level feels like on a particular hill. Which level feels the best? Why?
    Uphill running

    The grade of the hill is not as important as the way you run a hill. Again, pay attention to the amount of muscle strength you are applying to the run, and the physical distinctions between holding yourself back, running relaxed, and pressing the pace.

    • Notice what happens when you press the pace on a steep hill. Do you get tired sooner? Do you weave back and forth (from side to side) on a sidewalk? Do you have to concentrate on pressing the pace, rather than letting your mind wander?
    • Does your form begin to disintegrate? Do your legs angle out because you are dragging your feet, unable to take a full and powerful step? Note: The way to take a straight, powerful step is by taking shorter steps at the same, level-ground tempo.
    • I used to say lean from your ankles. But the more important focus should be on your entire body from feet to head. See about repeating the following mantra: “Power, Form, and Balance.” As you repeat it to yourself, think about what you’re doing.
      Power, Form, and Balance

      Power, Form, and Balance is a running mantra. A mantra is a mental focal point, similar to the more visual “spot” on the ground. Just as your spot gives you a way to balance your body with each footfall, you can use a mantra to achieve mental balance under duress.

      • A phrase such as “power, form, and balance,” can also remind you of how to achieve physical balance by constantly correcting your form on a hill. The better your posture the more muscle power you can employ correctly and effectively.
      • Try running a hill with “good” posture and “poor” posture (see below). Notice that perfect posture requires more muscle strength to hold a pace. That means you are building all the pertinent power muscles, making you stronger, with practice.
      • Ultimately, negotiating hills correctly requires attention to something felt as much as thought. For instance, try leaning forward and backward slightly from your hips or your ankles. Strive to place your entire body from feet to head in perfect postural alignment
      Short and Quick in the Hills

      When posture, form, and balance are in perfect harmony, you’ll feel like there is no hill at all—that you are running on level ground at a relaxed pace. You must be willing to slow down enough to be relaxed, regardless of the grade.

      • Slowing down always requires shorter steps than on level ground. Your steps should be just short enough that your center of gravity is directly over your lead foot when it lands. You should feel like you are pushing up the hill, instead of pulling.
      • Pushing is not the same as pressing the pace. You can push and still be relaxed. Pushing is a technique for landing in a position from which you can power off immediately, instead of having to “pull” yourself into that position.
      • The relevant mantra is “Pick ‘um up and put ‘um down.” Don’t let the back foot dawdle on the ground or in the air behind you, but pick it up and put it back down quickly.  Another relevant mantra is “Short-and-quick.” Focus on both as technique reminders.
      Downhill Running Form 1

      In terms of training effect, downhill running has too little to bother with, unless you’re preparing for a downhill race. Racing downhill in training is unsustainable because of the elevated risk of injury. See about holding back, without pounding downhill.

        • It’s the pounding the feet and legs take that leads to injury. Thus, fast-paced downhill running, jogging, or walking is ultimately unsustainable. The practice of running downhill while minimizing the risk of injury is the next running skill you should make a habit of.
        • It helps to practice this running skill under the cover of darkness because it looks strange. And it will probably feel strange when you first employ it on a downhill grade.  The object is to hold yourself back by leaning back to break your fall.
        • You should be focused on a smooth-as-silk footfall, which means no bouncing up (your head doesn’t rise or fall in relation to the ground) nor pounding down. Extend your lower leg so your center of gravity is behind your landing foot. Balance and control are crucial.
      Downhill Running Form 2

      Here are a few more ideas to add to an earlier description.  Remember, what goes up, has to come down. Thus, training in the hills makes downhill running inevitable, so you must do it correctly, otherwise you risk needless and debilitating injury.

        • Resist the temptation to “train” on the downhills by going faster than you should. The uphills are for training, the downs are for merely getting back down. That’s why it’s best to do your downhill running at the beginning of a workout while you are warming up.
        • A smooth-as-silk footfall is crucially important on the downhills. No jolting steps. Pay attention to your posture and watch your spot on the ground. See about running on the smoothest possible surface (the middle of a quiet street instead of an uneven sidewalk).
        • Let gravity take you down the hill but maintain a slow pace. It’s easy to run fast downhill. But fast is unsustainable because it’s too easy to hurt yourself. The training discipline requires that you forego the thrill of downhill speed in favor of ease of motion.
      Posture and the Body

      Good posture is important to all successful running performance.  But it’s critically important on a hill. See about coming briefly to a complete stop at the bottom of a hill. Do a thorough posture check before you start walking or slow jogging up the hill.

        • Good posture begins with the hips. Tilt your hips back, which arches your lower back. This is tough to do on a hill, as you’ll want to thrust them forward to extend your stride.  Tilting them back forces a shorter stride, which is both efficient and powerful.
        • Your body is a pliable physical structure, which can be adjusted for power and efficiency. When you tilt your hips back, it’s easier for your torso to sit erect on your hips. Comparably, arching your back enables you to raise your chest up military style.
        • Don’t look at the top of the hill. But keep your gaze down so you are looking at your spot on the ground. Bring your shoulders back and down. See about holding your posture with slight adjustments as the grade of the hill changes.
      Posture and the Feet

      Good posture begins with the feet which are the platforms on which you do workouts. Those platforms are the most important parts of the moving body because you can inadvertently injure yourself when you distribute your weight unevenly across the foot.

        • See about distributing your weight evenly between the large, big-toe metatarsal and the four smaller toe bones. It’s okay to land on your heels, the mid-foot, or the balls. But never more to one side or the other, laterally. This takes concentration to form a habit.
        • A mid-foot strike is nothing more than landing with your weight distributed evenly between the heel and the forefoot. Many athletes land this way on a hill because it takes less effort than a forefoot landing. But you must be careful.
        • A mid-foot strike on level ground can be a heavy landing with little to cushion the blow. That’s why mid-foot strikers habitually land first on the lateral, outer side of the foot, thereby over-stressing the smaller bones and raising the risk of foot injuries.

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