Power Up Any Hill With Ease!

As any runner who's climbed any really big hill can attest, hills may have divine benefits, but they make you feel like you've been pummeled by the Thunderbirds.

John Hanc |

Why does hill running hurt so much? In part, because it takes more work. “You have to recruit more muscle fibres to get yourself up the hill, which causes those muscles to fatigue faster,” says Dr. Carwyn Sharp, assistant professor of exercise science at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

Plus, when you’re running on an incline, there’s a shorter distance for your foot to fall before it hits the ground. That translates into less of an energy boost from the tendons, which you normally get when running on a flat surface, says Dr. Paul DeVita, a biomechanist at East Carolina University.

On the up side, hitting hills is hugely beneficial to runners.

“Do it week after week, and your body begins to adapt to the stresses,” says Sharp. “In other words, it gets stronger.” Still, doing hill work is like eating Brussels sprouts. We know we should, but we don’t really want to.

While there’s no way around the effort involved, a few adjustments to your workouts and your mental game can make hill running more tolerable and maybe even more fun.



Do this workout with a bunch of runners of mixed ability, says coach, Larry Indiviglia.

  • Warm up, then assemble at the base of a hill.
  • The slowest runner(s) start first.
  • After 30 seconds, the second group charges up.
  • Thirty seconds later, the third and fastest group takes off.

The result? Everyone pushes it and works harder.

“The slower people don’t want to be passed,” says Indiviglia. “The middle group feels the fast guys nipping at their heels. And the fast group doesn’t want to be put in the unusual position of finishing last.”

Jog back down. Repeat four times.


  • Warm up on the treadmill at a zero incline.
  • Then increase the incline by two levels every two minutes until you hit level 12.
  • Run one to two minutes slower than your normal training pace.
  • Descend in the same manner.

“You learn how to handle the intensity of hills in a way that simulates the nature of terrain outdoors,” says Liz Neporent, co-author of Fitness for Dummies.


  • Use this workout as an efficient strength-builder, says Sharp.
  • Start at the base of a hill about 200 to 400 metres long, depending on your fitness.
  • Run up it for 45 seconds (your intensity should be about a 7 on a 1-to-10 scale).
  • Jog back down for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat three times.

As you get stronger, increase the number of intervals up to eight and the length of intervals up to 75 seconds (maintain recovery time).

LISTEN: Dr. Ross Tucker explains how to conquer hills >>



“Running hills doesn’t have to mean repeats,” says Lt. Colonel Liam Collins, assistant track and cross-country coach. “The trick is to make it enjoyable.” Plot out a new route that has a couple of hills (if you live in flat terrain area, incorporate artificial hills, such as overpasses or even parking garage ramps). You’ll reap the same benefits, says Collins, plus, “It’s closer to what you’ll find in a race.”


As a graduate student, Collins was part of a group that did a weekly workout on a route called “Over the Top” that included one monstrous hill. They attacked it together and turned it into a race-within-a-run, thus making the effort a shared experience. They kept track of who made it to the top first, and at the end of the season (taking a page from cycling’s Tour de France), everyone chipped in to buy the winner a polka dot jersey, signifying “the King of the Mountain.”


Storied inclines like Loskop’s Varadays and Surrender Hill at the Surrender Hill Marathon in Clarens, Free State may be no tougher than your neighborhood hill, but because they’ve been imbued with a name, they’ve acquired a mystique. “Anytime you have a hill with a name, it gives it a life of its own,” Collins says.

Conquering your local version of Heartbreak will have more meaning if you’ve given it a moniker.

Hit the hills with perfect form

1. DRIVE HARD WITH YOUR ARMS: Increase your armswing as if you’re pulling yourself quickly up a rope, says Indiviglia.

2. PRESS FORWARD WITH YOUR HIPS: As you run up, think about pressing your hips into the hill to avoid bending at the waist.

3. RUN WITH HIGH KNEES: This will help increase your stride rate and further help you maintain good posture.

4. SPRING UP FROM YOUR TOES: Push off your toes to create an upward lift that will help propel you forward.

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