Running hills is often avoided due to improper form which causes strain or pain. This occurs not only with beginners but with runners of all experience to include professionals. Knowing proper technique will help a runner get faster and reduce or eliminate the pain associated with hill running.
Running form should not change whether you are running on flat or a hilly course.
The only difference is the angle of the ground which causes a the gravitational pull to be different for up and down hill.
Running Form for flat ground should be, keeping your body up right, shoulders back, head in a neutral position, arms at a 90 degree angle, pulling the foot from the ground up under the pelvis, foot landing under your general center of mass, and relax everything from the knee down.
Running up hill is the easiest concept, with running on flat ground the next difficult concept to grasp, the most difficult is down hill running. The reason is gravity will or will not allow you to do certain things.
As for running up hill, it is difficult to reach/over stride/land on the heel as well as difficult to push off as it over extends the calf and hamstring. When going up hill runners need to increase their cadence, due to the angle of ground, this will cause a shortening of stride length (shorter steps). The angle of the hill determines the degree of the runners lean/fall, which utilizes the ankle as the fulcrum and the body stays in a straight line from the ankle to the pelvis to the shoulders. Runners need to embrace gravity do not work against it. Good form is represented by the runner in blue. Bad form is represented by the runner in red.
The concept of down hill running is the most difficult concept due to the strength of the gravitational pull. To decrease gravity’s strength, a runner needs to decrease the amount of lean/fall, keep their body upright over your general center of mass and do not lean forward. A runner needs to keep their feet under their general center of mass, and not reach out in front for the ground, not push off as this will increase speed too much and place the runner out of control, Runners should not push off and straighten their leg as it leads to over extending their leg.
Gravitational pull will decrease the amount of muscular effort. A runner should pull their foot slightly off the ground and let gravity pull it back down, and increase the cadence as compared to running on flat ground. Running down hill requires more body control – body position, higher cadence, reduced effort.
Summary Up Hill:
Increase lean angle
Pull foot under pelvis
Bend at waist
Straighten your legs
Summary of Down Hill Running:
Straighten body up
Land over general center mass
Land ball of foot or mid-foot
Keep feet close to the ground
Overstride – reach for the groun
Land out in front
Author Brian Harkins is an endurance coach at NYC Endurance.
Brian holds the following certifications:
Certified Road Runner Club of America Coach (RRCA)
Crossfit Level 1 Coach- ANSI certification
Crossfit Mobility and Recovery Certification
Paul Chek Holistic Life Style Coach
Optimum Performance Training Assessment Certification (pending)
American Heart Association CPR/First Aid Certified
Brian is also a Crossfit Endurance Assistant Coach and regularly participates in coaching Crossfit Endurance Seminars in the Tri-State area as part of the coaching staff.