Uphill Running: Hard…But Worth It
Hill running. It’s hard. So what are the benefits to slogging it up a hill when you could be cruising on the flat?
Research has shown that running uphill can result in an increase in step length, increased flight time and decreased contact time during running gait. These characteristics are all associated with better running performance.
In regards to muscle activation, a lot depends on the degree of the incline. But it’s mostly about your glutes. Running uphill compared to the flat requires greater gluteal activation during both the swing and stance phase of running.
However…to see benefits carry-over to running performance, it’s not as simple as starting to trundle up some hills whilst running.
It is known that runners adapt their running strategy to optimise energy expenditure. In other words, change certain characteristics of your running gait so you use less energy. As a result, when running uphill, step length and flight time will decrease and contact time and step frequency will increase (changes to flight time and contact time are directly related to an increase in step frequency).
It is the same as if cycling. When cycling at a constant speed with increasing slope, energy expenditure will increase; but if you change gear and pedaling frequency increases enough to allow the required power to progress uphill, you will minimise your energy expenditure.
So what does it all mean?!
If you’re after benefits to your running performance and are contemplating uphill sessions – keep your step frequency (cadence) the same as if running on the flat. You will work harder and your energy expenditure will be greater…but you will also gain a whole lot more!
Padulo, J., Degortes, N., Migliaccio, G., Attene, G., Smith, L., Salernitano, G., Annino, G., D’Ottavio, S. 2013. Footstep Manipulation during Uphill Running. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 34, 244-247.
Padulo, J., Powell, D., Milia, R., Ardigo, L. 2013. A Paradigm of Uphill Running. Plos One, 8(3).