26th January 2017.For runners everywhere, few sights are as daunting as a steep hill. If you live in an area with plenty of slopes, you may even crave the ability to run for long distances over smooth, level ground. While you may not currently enjoy running up and down hills, the fact of the matter is that it's an incredibly effective way to train your body and improve your fitness. Anyone who's tried to run up a hill at full speed knows it's no easy task; your heart starts pumping as hard as it can, and you're often out of breath long before you reach the top. Then, of course, there's the return down the hill. With gravity on your side, you'd think it would be much easier, and yet there's always the danger of going too fast and taking a terrible spill. Rather than avoid hills altogether, though, you should embrace them and their ability to train your body more thoroughly. One doesn't need just suddenly to start attempting to run hills all day, though. There are preparations you can make and techniques you can adopt to make the entire process a little easier. So, if you want to take full advantage of what hills can offer your fitness, how can you conquer them? Let's look at some helpful hints and clever tips for tackling those hills on your running route.

Don't forget the importance of proper running form

Anyone who's run for a fair length of time knows that there's more to it than just quickly putting one foot in front of the other. Form, or the way you carry your body as you move, is critical to both success and comfort. Runners can spend a lot of time training their form on flat ground and understanding their stride. Then suddenly you hit a hill, and it seems like all that learning goes right out the window! To successfully navigate hills, the form you use running up (and down) will make all the difference. The natural feeling thing to do is lean forward "into" the hill quite far as you run. Don't! That's a recipe for back pain and a serious struggle. Instead, the only lean you should experience is a slight lean forward originating from your hips. Keep your head up and looking forward to maintain open airways so you can keep sucking down the oxygen your body needs on cardio-intensive hills. Also, important to hill form is using the hill to propel yourself forward, rather than as a surface that's absorbing your footfalls. Keep your toes angled towards the ground as you lift them off ? this lets you push off with a much greater amount of force, reducing the effort you need to keep going. Your form is also crucial to downhill running, but we'll touch on that more in a moment.

You won't be able to succeed without stopping right away

If it sounds like fixing your uphill running form will solve all your problems, it won't ? though it will help. One important thing to remember when running up hills is that some are going to be more challenging than others. There's no shame in needing to stop to catch your breath halfway up and trying again later. In fact, it can be the better choice. You might want to spend more of your early practices walking downhill then trying to run back up again. Not only are hill sprints like these incredibly effective at developing your uphill form, but they're extremely intense workouts. If you're hoping to blast some fat off your body, this will help. Remember that even if you have your form down, the mental aspect of pushing through a hill can be just as tough. Focus on the summit by keeping your head forward, and keep swinging your arms to keep your momentum going. You'll eventually find that smaller hills become easier. Perseverance might not seem like much of a tip, but many runners maintain their hatred of hills simply because they don't keep trying.

Keeping pace doesn't always mean speed

One mental hurdle to clear is the feeling that you aren't running as fast as you could be while going uphill. It's true ? you'll never run as fast uphill as you do on flat ground. That's okay, though, because in the end it will all even out. How does that work, though? Shouldn't you work as hard as possible to get over the hill? The answer is ?No." The key is to maintain the overall level of effort you usually use while running. Maintaining the same effort is a lot different from keeping pace, which is your actual speed. Your pace will slow down on hills, but your goal should be to find the place that feels the same as running on a straightaway. In other words, a hill should simply be a "bump in the road", and the only real way you need to compensate is in the way you carry your body and strike the road. Don't focus on the time you're losing off your goal pace while heading uphill; as soon as you start going down, you'll get all that time back. So, once you reach the top and start heading back down, what should you do?

Staying on your feet during downhill runs

There are several major things you should focus on while entering the downhill portion of your run. First, remember to continue to stick to your current level of effort. That will keep you from speeding up too fast thanks to gravity while also helping to propel you downward at a good rate. You'll feel the pull of the earth quite firmly on particularly steep downhill sections, and the urge to "go with the flow" is high. Resist it, or you could end up sprawled out on the pavement. You don't want to overlengthen your stride going downhill. It should extend a little, but not by much. In fact, your overall cadence should likely decrease as a result. This practice keeps you in control of your speed without sacrificing the ability to go faster. Regarding form, you should maintain the slight forward lean, but change the way your foot strikes the ground. Aim for each footfall to land somewhere around the middle of your feet. This is a better method for staying in control until you bottom out and return to your regular running style on flat ground.

How to improve your overall hill summiting speed

OK, so you have a general sense of what you should be doing to run hills more successfully. So how do you improve and start going faster? While "practice makes perfect," it's the type of training that's important too. There are many types of hill drills you can perform to help improve your physical fitness and hill summiting ability. As you try these, remember that consistency over time is the key to extending your level of ability. Try running "repeats," as we mentioned before, wherein you run up the hill for 30 to 90 seconds and then rest. Over the course of each week, these long runs help develop your muscle fibres and improve your experience with hill running. For a shorter workout, do sprints ? which are exactly what they sound like. Just power up the hill as hard as you can for up to a minute and a half, then take a longer rest. Catch your breath and do it all over again. Practice your downhills too to gain control over your stride and the way your feet come to the ground as you go downward.

Time to practice! Hit the hills and see how you perform

There are several stages to properly tackling hills, and we hope this overview of them has helped you formulate a new plan of attack. Remember that above all else, maintaining the right form is the most important step of all. Not only do you risk injury if you run hills with improper form, but you're also not going to enjoy yourself at all. While the idea of loving hills might seem foreign now, you may eventually grow to see them as the excellent challenge they truly are. Change up your routine and start running more hills; when you feel the difference in your ability after lots of practice, you'll be glad that you did.