Whenever I run uphill, I’m always passed by my competitors. I can’t seem to find the speed to stay with the group. What’s wrong?
Running uphill requires proper form that requires balance, symmetry and strength. The lack of balance is quite often attributed to a weak core and gluteals. The lack of symmetry is a combination balance issues along with weak lower leg and foot strength. Strength in running hills should be a flowing, fluid motion where there is minimal side-to-side hip drop, uneven arm swing and a noticeable hitch in the stride. Hills can bring out improper biomechanics but they can also teach you flawless technique!
Here are a few key areas to pay attention to when hitting the hills.
- Keep Your Head and Eyes Up. Keep your eyes high and don’t look down. Glance downward to heighten your awareness of the potential obstacles then immediately bring your eyes back to a head-neutral position. Not looking down will help maintain smooth mechanics and postural alignment.
- Concentrate on Your Core. Draw in your belt line muscles—meaning the transverse abdominus or TVA muscles—that will help stabilize your core and limit the sink time on each stride. Try narrowing your waistline with this deep underlying muscle. The purpose of the TVA is to provide spinal stability and gluteal activation that is absolutely paramount when running. The uphill, uneven and downhill segments will test your TVA activation!
- Keep Your Gluteals Firing. Put your hands on your gluteals for a few strides and see if they are engaged! This should feel like a short but tight squeeze on each step and is heightened on the uphill gradient. If they feel soft and mushy then plant your foot a tad longer in the stance phase and allow a bit more hip extension. The gluteals are the engine for hill running.
- Run Downhill. This may seem counterintuitive but adding downhill running to your training will help increase your core and quad strength that will improve your flat and uphill running. The eccentric or muscle lengthening on the downhill is a necessary component to run fast. Try adding short segments of 15 to 45 sec downhill intervals in your workout and be careful that your speed builds up over 5 to 10 sessions. Downhill running can make you darn sore so be gentle for the first 4 sessions.
- Improve Calf Strength. Hill running requires your calves to drive off the ground. Try adding calf raises with a double leg and single leg upward lift. Additionally when you come up on one second, lower yourself on a count of five to heighten the eccentric load. The calf raises also work the muscles and tendons in your feet that will give you the pop on the hills! Try 3 sets of 8 with the eccentric lower. Sets 1 and 3 with a double calf raise and set 2 try the single calf raise.
Try to focus on these 5 key areas during your next hill running session. You will notice an improvement in your running strength and technique after 5 sessions.