Hill running – why?

Hill running should be an integral part of every runner’s training program. Training on hills strengthens your legs and ankles and allows you to work on your aerobic, anaerobic and muscular fitness at the same time.

Here are a few reasons why you should include hill running in your training program, whether you are a beginner or even an experienced runner. You will also read about some of the injuries brought on by overdoing your hill running.

Hill Running – Benefits

Hill running is one of the best methods to improve your overall running performance, for beginners as well as experienced runners. To begin with, this form of running strengthens your hamstrings, calves, glutes, hip flexors and Achilles tendons.

Short hills, medium hills, long hills and mixed hill running, all have their own set of advantages. Here we list the main benefits.

1. Strength building

When you run on a level ground, you are attempting to move your body laterally. However, when you are running on the hills, you are also moving your body against gravity.

This offers resistance training, which in turn helps to strengthen your body, especially in the beginning stages of your training program.

2. Increase in speed

By running on the hills, you increase your speed by building strength, since the muscle groups used to get over the hills are the same that are used in sprinting.

3. Improves stride pattern

Hill running has also been found to increase the frequency and length of your stride, both of which are important aspects of speed. This is very helpful for experienced runners who want to improve their overall performance.

4. Reduces injuries

As you strengthen your leg muscles through hill running, you considerably reduce the risk of suffering from running-related injuries.

5. Enhances co-ordination

Hill running develops co-ordination in beginners by encouraging the proper use of arm action during the driving phase and feet in the support phase.

6. Strengthens upper body

Running on hills uses more upper-body muscles than you will use while running on flat ground. This further leads to strengthening of the upper body.

 7. Others

 Other benefits of hill running include:

  • Helps increase muscle elasticity
  • Downhill running develops control and stabilization
  • Mixed hills improves lactate tolerance
  • Downhill running helps in prevention of muscle soreness
  • Develops your cardiovascular system
  • Increases resistance to fatigue
  • Valuable when preparing for marathons
  • Teaches rhythm to beginners

Research

An article in the European Journal of Applied Psychology (1977), reported that runners who followed an intense six-week program of hard uphill running experienced significant improvements in training distances, anaerobic capacity and strength.

Another report in the Endurance and Sport, the International Olympic Committee’s book (1992), revealed an impressive increase in the performance of those runners who combined regular running with hill running. This group of runners had witnessed an increase of an average three percent over just 12 weeks.

Research also indicates that those who are regularly involved in hill training are capable of carrying out a much higher amount of quality training.

Hill Running – Injuries

Although running on the hills has a vast range of benefits, it can make the runner vulnerable to a series of injuries if done to excess.

Here we list the main injuries and conditions associated with hill running.

a) Achilles tendinitis

This condition is typically characterized by pain that occurs with heel strike or when the foot lands on a curb or while running up the stairs or uphill, especially when there is a sudden change of direction.  It is more noticeable when uphill running because the Achilles has further to extend as the heel reaches down to the ground due to the uphill gradient.

b) Iliotibial band syndrome

This condition is associated with running downhill. The key symptom of this injury is pain on the outside of the knee, experienced while running. Sometimes, it is also accompanied by a pain on the outside of the hip.  Some people try to stretch the IT band off religiously after exercise.  The IT band is not a muscle and therefore cannot be stretched.  Instead it can be freed off by seeing a good sports therapist regularly.  It can also be freed at home by using a foam roller or a tennis ball (and probably an extra tennis ball to bite on!).

c) Shin splints

Shin splints is a generic term for pain in the shins.  It can be associated with many different pains in all areas of the lower leg and can be caused by many different reasons.  Pain in the shins while running is also often associated with hill running. The pain starts gradually, initially occurring only after running, and later becomes a persistent pain.  It can also be credited to running on hard surfaces such as roads and pavements where the legs take a massive pounding.  I personally think most pains people get in their shins are down to bio mechanical faults somewhere – one part of the body not functioning properly, and causing a chain reaction of over compensations and eventually resulting in pain in a completely different area.

I also personally associate shin splint type injuries with footwear choices!  Most modern ‘running’ trainers have high arches and thick heels.  If the arch in your foot is supported by the arch in your shoe, then it doesn’t have to support itself and so looses it’s strength and the tendons and muscles around that area get lazy, which in turn passes onto the muscles in the calf – worth a thought!! And easily combatted with a few exercises on the feet!

d) Patellofemoral Syndrome

Runners affected by this condition experience anterior knee pain that occurs with activity and worsens when running downhill.

e) Plantar Fasciitis

This condition is characterized by an inflammation of the plantar (bottom of the foot). The patient normally experiences pain in the bottom of the heel, when arising in the morning or after being seated for a long period of time.

 f) Runner’s Knee

This condition is associated with downhill running and causes pain in and around the kneecap or the patella.

Conclusion

Hill running offers a vast range of benefits to beginners as well as experienced runners. However, in order to derive the maximum advantage from this form of training, it is important for you to learn the proper technique. When done with the right method, hill running will make you stronger, healthier and faster, helping you to achieve your desired goal.

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