Running Uphill Technique Made Easy (And Why It Helps)

How do you run a hill effectively? Having proper running uphill technique is a fuzzy subject.

For beginning and experienced trail runners, mastering uphill trail running is like playing chess with AI.

As soon as you think you’ve beaten it, it surprises you with a checkmate. And you’re left with your hands on your knees, trying your best to keep your breakfast down.

But, there are running technique tips (and trail running technique tips!) you can fit into your workouts to make you a better uphill runner.

This post will dive into how you can improve your uphill running through better form. I’ll also explain who can benefit from uphill running and how it’s beneficial.

Let’s jump into it.

How can I improve my uphill running technique?

Better uphill running means your running form needs to become a primary focus. So, let’s start with proper uphill running form.

Should you lean forward when running uphill?

Yes and no. It’s natural to lean forward when going uphill. But, you want to bend forward at your ankles.

Keep your chest upright, and your head lifted. This gives you more power over your breathing. Also, it moves your center of gravity forward to a more balanced position.

Pay attention to your foot strikes

Proper trail running uphill technique requires using a forefoot strike. Which makes it a fantastic exercise for your calves.

Staying on your forefeet helps you maintain your center of gravity. You can quickly adjust as the terrain changes beneath you. 

Keeping an eye on your foot strike is critical for proper running uphill technique.

Staying on your forefoot with each step keeps you bouncy and quick.

We like bouncy and quick.

Shorten your stride

Keep your stride length short. Larger strides use more energy. And that’s energy you need to save.

Especially when running up technical terrain, it’s crucial to have quick, choppy steps. You can adjust much faster and focus on your foot placement better.

Make it an entire body workout

This is an area where strength training benefits your trail running technique.

If you struggle with doing strength training, you’re not alone. I fail to use more strength training in my training plan. But we can keep on trying, right?

There are benefits to having some extra upper body strength, though.

Here are a few ways your entire body can help your uphill running:

Swing your arms

Your arms act as pendulums here. Swinging them back and forth helps to propel your body forward. It sounds funny, but a proper arm swing can help you save energy.

The stronger your arms are, the more force you can generate with each swing.

Use your arms when you power hike

Despite what others may tell you, power hiking trails can be just as effective as running uphill.

Even Kilian Jornet pointed out that power hiking steep sections can be a better option for saving energy.

But, what does he know? Not like he’s one of the greatest mountain runners or anything.

When hiking, use your arms to push you forward from your legs.

Power hiking helps for a variety of reasons. Keeping your heart rate low, carrying a consistent speed, and using all leg muscles.

So put your hands on your knees, and use them to drive off when you’re pushing uphill.

Drive your knees upward

Engage your hip flexors, and lift those knees and quads up. This motion engages your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. You get the full power of your leg with each step, so use it!

It all goes toward making you better.

Who can benefit from uphill trail running?

The answer is easy: everyone.

No matter what you are. Trail runners, road runners, track athletes — everyone can benefit from uphill training.

You don’t have to be training for a trail race, marathon training, or getting ready for an adventure. None of that matters. 

If you want to improve in any way, uphill (and downhill) running will benefit you.

So, your question may be, “How?”

How does uphill running benefit you?

The apparent benefits are more muscular legs and a more sturdy core. Not to mention you just look like a badass as you glide up a hill.

Me? I look more like a dying dog dragged by a tortoise.

But, there are more discreet benefits. Here are a few:

1. Improved running economy

We’ll keep it in laypeople’s terms. By running uphill, your body develops its systems to make you better at…well, running!

The better your running economy is, the faster (and further) you can run before showing signs of fatigue.

Running economy leads to faster running.

Think of it as your engine. As you go faster and further, you get a bit of wear on your car.

Tune up your engine, though? Now you’re on to something.

2. You get faster

You know all those muscles I listed above? Those are the same muscles we use in a full-out sprint.

So, build your leg muscles through uphill running, and you lay down faster times on the track.

Hill repeats are the best way to attack this. Hitting each repeat with a challenging effort gives your legs the workout they need to improve.

3. It’s lower impact

The repeated pounding from running on flat or downhill terrain adds up. It leads to overuse injuries, and those are never fun.

Do you know what the antidote is to overuse injuries? Uphill running.

Uphill running is low impact, so you save your joints and bones.

Because you’re not generating as much force on your foot strikes, you’re reducing how much weight your joints, bones, and muscles take on.

Also, you’re using large muscle groups, so you’re asking your entire leg to do the work; instead of just one area.

A simple way to avoid pesky injuries? Sign me up.

Conclusion

Trail running tips simplified; that’s how we like ’em.

Uphill running is a critical workout in a trail runner’s training plan. If you don’t dedicate time to the inclines, you’re missing out on a great way to become a better trail runner. And having proper trail running uphill technique is a key part of that.

Hopefully, this post inspired you to go find the steepest hill near you right now.

By the way, you’ll need some trail running shoes if you’re heading out, right? Check out the ultimate list of trail running shoes to find your pair now.