Should you adjust your running form on hills?
A runner climbing a hill with an ocean view in the background

When not on the track here at Movaia we love exploring the trails – and they happen to be quite hilly around here. 

As a runner, tackling hills can feel challenging. Does running on hills require a different running form than running on flat terrain? Whether you’re preparing for a hilly race or simply enjoy trail running, here are top technique tips to help you navigate hilly terrain with ease:

  • Shorten your stride and increase your cadence: The incline of the hill will naturally shorten your stride. Increase your step rate to maintain momentum.
  • Lean forward: This will help you conserve energy by “outsourcing” some of the work to gravity.
  • Stay mid to fore-foot: Even if you’re not a fore-foot runner on flat ground, it’s a good idea (and also easier) to stay mid to fore-foot when running uphill. Thiswill help you to avoid leaning backwards, maintain control and lower your effort.
  • Pace yourself: When running uphill, it’s important to pace yourself so that after arriving at the top you can maintain a good pace downhill. On longer and steeper hills, don’t be afraid to walk – even the pro’s do it in longer races! If you have to walk, keep your hands on your thighs and lean forward.
  • Maintain an even effort level: When running on hills, try to maintain a similar effort level as you would on flat terrain. This means slowing down uphill and speeding up downhill if the terrain allows for it.
  • Keep your cadence high when running downhill to avoid pounding your legs and fatiguing your muscles. This will really pay off in the later stages of longer races and in recovery after the race.
  • Avoid leaning back: When running downhill, avoid leaning back or looking too closely at the ground in front of you. This will slow you down and lead to poor posture and control when you need it most.
Running uphill: A runner walking up a steep hill during a race with a scenic landscape in the background
There is no shame in walking really steep hills, as Thomas did at this race recently. Leaning forward and placing your hands on your thighs makes it easier.

Apart from good running form, you’ll also need the “horsepower” to maintain a strong effort uphill. Key workouts to include in your training for hilly races include hill repeats. These involve going hard uphill for about a minute followed by a walk or easy jog downhill. Start with six efforts and increase up to 20 closer to race day. This will build your VO2 Max and form.

For strength and endurance, also include sessions with longer 8-12 minute long efforts, repeated 2-3 times. Put it all together in training runs on undulating hills where you speed up on the uphill sections and ease up going downhill. This makes a great fartlek / interval workout, just remember to “even out” the pace on race day.

Finally think about your running form not just on the hills: Uphill running builds on the principles of good running form on the flat. If you have hills to train that’s great but even on the flats working on your run form will pay dividends on the hills. Another tip for flat-landers:

With these tips, you’ll conquer hills with ease and improve your running form overall. Happy running!

Want to work on your running form? Upload your video to for your personal running form analysis.