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The Benefits of Running Hills


Running coaches harp on about the benefits of running hills, but what are they? What is proper hill running form, and how do you go about running hills when you live in a place that is as flat as a pancake? Find out and join up with Running Coaches Corner!

I was a little stumped on what to talk about today, so I asked one of my clients (hi, Missy!) what she has been wondering about lately with regards to her marathon training (I am asking her this while torturing her during a session, btw). Missy’s first suggestion was running in humidity, but as I covered running in heat and humidity a few weeks ago, I said NEXT and asked for another. So sweaty seconds goes to running hill workouts during marathon training when you live in a flat area (Midwest, Florida, I’m looking at you).

To make it very clear, running hills benefits ALL runners, not just those training for long distance!

This is going to be a two parter, starting first with a general why and how of running hills, and next week I will focus more on the how of running hills on the treadmill.

The Benefits of Running Hills During Race Training

The Benefits of Running Hills for all runners! Do you know why hill workouts can improve your running? Find out with Running Coaches Corner!

Is it just something us coaches devise to torture us during the summer? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, it is fun to watch you all run up and down the hill at our behest, but there are a few other reasons, at least in my book! 

Running Hills has Major Physical Benefits

Seriously, running hills is strength training in disguise (but it does not mean that you can skip out on your other strength training!) but also works on your VO2 Max and aerobic capacity.  In fact, a few articles that I have read have placed hill workouts as on level with teaching the same mechanics as plyometric workouts (which I hate, so I will gladly run hills). (This is with regards to long hill repeats, which I will get to in a minute).

Running Hills Has Major Mental Benefits

Workouts are tough for a reason–to make you tougher, and not just physically. Running hills is as much an exercise in the power of the mind as it is the power of the muscles and lungs. When you reach “Mount Roosevelt” at the end of the Chicago Marathon, and you think you can’t make it another step, remember that last hill repeat.

Running Hills Teaches Proper Form

You cannot effectively run hills with bad form. Trust me, you will be in a world of hurt, and you won’t get anywhere. A long time ago, I wrote the post Ride the Downhills, and while it was a bit more of a reflective post, I did talk about form a bit as well. But for those who don’t care about the mental strategy of tackling hills and just want to get to the form, here you go:

  • Don’t pitch forward at the waist but keep yourself upright
  • Clench your butt and use your glutes with each step
  • Extend your leg out behind you to help propel yourself forward
  • Make contact with the forefoot
  • Take consistent, measured steps that are shorter than normal, but not staccato. You want your feet to land under or just in front of your hips.

Running Hills Encourages Glute Activation

Ask my trainees and clients (and yourself, if you have read my blog for at least a year) what is my biggest hanging point that I harp on about ad nauseum, and they (and you) had BETTER say “Glute Activation.” Not only does it help prevent boredom and prevent injury on long runs, but running with your glutes on board and firing will encourage your strongest race. Think about it: are you stronger pushing or pulling? I know that I am stronger pushing, and that is rooted in my glutes. But regardless of how strong your bum is, if it isn’t working for you, that badonkadonk is just there for show


I chose the Twin Cities Marathon because it had rolling hills throughout in order to encourage my glute engagement throughout the marathon! And in fact, I was never seriously injured before I ran in flat Chicago–I had only run in really hilly places before we moved here!

The reasons why runners need to #embracethehill #runchat #running #marathontraining Click To Tweet

So as Sarah of Run Far Girl has said, Embrace the Hill!

Tell me: Do you embrace the hill?

What are some topics that you would like me to cover in future Coaches Corner Posts?

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And now it is time to link up with Rachel, Lora, and Debbie for Running Coaches Corner! I am also linking up with Patty, Erika, and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run, Nicole, Annmarie, Michelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday, and Ilka for Food and Fitness Sunday.

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