Running Uphill: How often and How to Get Better At It

I was running in a new route with a hill section when I was taken back by how gruesome the uphill section was. I haven’t really thought about working on it regularly so I wondered how often should I do it so I could get better at it.

As a general rule, you should run uphill at least once a week to get better at uphill running. Aim for half a mile to a mile with at least a 5% incline when you’re first starting out. Doing leg strengthening exercises such as lunges and step-ups also helps you improve on running uphills.

But that’s not the only thing you should do to get better at running uphill. Ahead, I will give you tips on how to get better at running uphill along with four great workouts that you should do to strengthen your uphill muscles. We will also look at some of the possible reasons why you’re struggling with uphill running. This is going to be an article packed with information about uphill running so if that interests you, read along.

How Often Should You Run Uphill?

Some of you may have access to hills so you might be wondering how often should you take that route and train uphills. Well, it really depends on what you’re aiming for.

If you’re someone who’s training for trail runs, chances are, most of your runs will include uphill portions, it’s almost inevitable. In that case, you should run uphill once or twice a week.

But for some road runners who just want to use the hills as another training variation to spice up their training, then running once a week or once every two weeks is ideal (and frankly, a lot of road races have a slight uphill so you might have to train it every once and a while).

For regular dudes and gals who are just running for health purposes, you may not even need to run uphill. A good old flat road will give you the health benefits you need just fine.

Really, what you should look at is what stage you’re in your training. To go to the next level, you definitely have to do something different, and running uphill is a good way to stimulate a different stimulus in your training program.

For me, I like to run uphill at least once a week because my hobby of choice (trail running) requires me to. So when I’m running on the road, I try to find a route with an uphill section every now and then.

Is Running Uphill a Good Training?

This is me and my friend training in a steep uphill

There’s no doubt that running a long uphill is an uphill battle. It’s hard, it’s painful and it’s soul-crushing. Some of you might think is running uphill even good training? Will it help you improve your running?

In general, running uphill is good training because it improves overall strength, speed, and power, develops your anaerobic system, and strengthens your core which improves your running posture. It’s also a good way to train your body to push through pain that could give you an advantage on races.

Running uphill offers a lot of advantages but still offers a few downsides. One is that you might have to dial back on mileage to prevent yourself from overtraining.

Uphill running is a very high-intensity activity that might overtrain you if you’re not careful. To prevent this, I suggest reducing your mileage by 20 to 30% if there’s half a mile to a mile uphill.

Of course, as time goes by and you get better at it, you can increase your mileage gradually even with the uphill section.

The whole purpose of the initial dial-back is to get a feel for things and make sure you don’t overtrain.

And two, it causes a lot of muscle tightness in your lower back which can eventually lead to low back pain if you don’t stretch well enough.

By the way, if you’re interested in using trail running as another variation of your training, I’ve made an article about how trail running translates into your road running performance. I promise it’s packed with good information you can use, check it out.

4 Reasons Why You’re Struggling To Run Uphill

There are a few reasons why you might be struggling with uphill running.

1. You Just Don’t Do It Often

No matter how good of a runner you are on flat roads, you’ll always struggle in running uphill for your first couple of runs. It’s inevitable.

So don’t be surprised if you’re struggling to run for a mile uphill despite your impressive 10km pace. You’re always going to struggle the first time around.

2. You Lack Strength

The intensity of your muscle exertion when you’re doing easy runs on a flat road is nowhere compared to the intensity when you’re running uphill.

Imagine taking your 150 lbs body up a steep incline, you’re going to need a lot of strength.

So if you’re struggling uphill, take a look back on how much you do strength exercises. No amount of aerobic capacity could replace that.

3. You’re Running Too Fast

Perhaps one of the most common reasons why you are struggling to run uphill is that you run up too fast to try to “stick as close to the pace”.

The result? After a few seconds, you start to slow down and within a few minutes, you’re gassed out like an untrained couch potato on his first run.

4. The Incline Is Too High For You

Going after a 12% incline on your first few months is like testing the depth of the water with both feet when you don’t know how to swim. It’s just going to be very hard and obvious that you’ll struggle.

Before you go after a high incline, start by running comfortably on a hill with around a 5% incline. That way, you’re able to let your body adapt to the new challenges of uphill running.

6 Tips To Get Better At Running Uphill

So, if you’re ready to go ahead and get better at running up a hill, here are a few tips that you can use right now.

1. Strengthen The Key Muscles

Getting better at uphill running starts at home (or at the gym). Make strengthen of the key muscles a part of your training program.

The key muscles are calves, glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Don’t worry, I’ll show you a few exercises for these later on in this article.

2. Lean Forward

When running uphill you want to keep your center of gravity a little forward to make the ascent a little easier. You just want to put your body in an optimal position so you don’t work too much against gravity.

3. Harden Your Core

Your core muscles are responsible for your running posture and they provide your body with power and stability. Strengthening them will allow you to keep yourself in an optimal posture as well as generate power for your legs.

4. Relax, Don’t Tense Up

A lot of times we think too much about proper stride and the fitness trackers’ metrics that we end up being tense throughout the run.

Ease up and focus more on your breathing. You can do this by counting your breath.

I like to match my breathing with my stride and inhaling twice before exhaling twice. That’s: inhale, inhale, exhale, exhale together with the steps.

Another way is to do a quick body scan. A body scan is a common meditation/relaxation technique where you do a quick mental scan for tense areas in your body and easing it up.

Lastly, don’t clench your fist hard. It’s a wasteful movement.

5. Do Lots Of Aerobic Exercises

I’ve mentioned that no amount of aerobic capacity can make up for lack of strength but the same is also true the other way around.

Build your aerobic capacity by running low to moderate intensity for longer distances. That way, you’re training your heart muscles to work more efficiently in supplying blood to the rest of your body.

I like to do this by following the MAF method where I run consistently for 30 mins at a heart rate of 180 – age (24). For me, that’s 156 beats per minute.

6. Slow Down

As I’ve mentioned earlier, most of us are too eager to get off the hill or stick close to our desired pace that we end up running too fast up a hill.

Whenever you’re in an uphill, run it as relaxed as you possibly can at a decent pace. If you have to slow down considerably, then that’s okay. You can always make up the time lost by running back to your regular pace when you reach the flat part.

Compare that to running fast uphill and having to slow down for the rest of the run because of exhaustion.

4 Workout Samples To Get Better At Uphill Running

1. Strengthening

3-5 Sets

12 Weighted Step Ups (with DB or weighted vest)
12 Weighted Lunges
12 Glute Bridges
12 Single Leg Deadlifts

2. Core Exercises

Workout 1

3 Sets

1 min Plank
1 min Hollow Rocks
1 min Rest

Workout 2

3 Sets

1 min Superman Hold
1 min Supermans

3. Circuit Training

3 Rounds

40s Lunges (add weights to increase intensity)
20s Rest
40s High Knees
20s Rest
40s Step Ups
20s Rest
40s V Ups
20s Rest

4. Hill Workouts

If you have access to a short hill, you could do this instead of your regular run.

Workout 1

6x20s hill sprints/strides

Workout 2

6×3 minute hill repeats

Key Takeaways

To summarize all that we’ve talked about in this article, I’ll give you some key takeaways in bulleted form:

  • Do uphill running depending on your current level. Trail runners can benefit from 1-2 times a week, road runners once a week or once every two weeks, and for regular runners who just wants the benefits of running, you don’t need to run uphill
  • Running uphill is a good way to increase running strength, improve posture, and improve the anaerobic system
  • Strengthening exercises coupled with anaerobic exercises is key to be a better uphill runner

Nicho Mauricio

Running wasn't always my favorite sport. I was a CrossFit athlete and I loved every bit of it. But since the pandemic began, I was forced to stay away from the gym and train at home instead. Things got boring. That's when I decided to trail run with my friends. I instantly got hooked. So I started training and researching all things running. As a beginner, I want to buy only the best running gear and do only the best practices. This blog is where I share what I've learned in my journey and my experiences as a runner.

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