Tips for Mastering Uphill Running

Photo: Kaare Iverson/TandemStock

Hill Running: Tips for Running Uphill

You may dread running uphill, but look at it this way: Since uphills increase your heart rate and engage different muscles than running on flats, they give you a quick boost of improved fitness and make you a stronger human being overall. Plus, the nature of an uphill slope forces your pace to slow, which can actually feel like a break, in a twisted sort of way. And running uphill is also easier on your joints than running on flats or downhill—there’s less impact force.

See? Running uphill has all sorts of positive qualities! Still, here are some tips to help them feel less daunting.


Keep Steps Short

Shorten your stride but try to keep your cadence—the amount of steps you take per minute—the same as when running flats. Shorter steps at a quick cadence is the most efficient way to run uphill.

Stay Upright

Focus on keeping your body tall and upright, instead of leaning over at the hips. Aim for keeping your torso and upper body in-line with your pelvis. To help maintain this position, avoid staring down at your feet or even the ground directly in front of you. Rather, look slightly ahead. It’s easy to hunch over when looking down.

Too much forward lean makes it hard to breathe. It also makes it difficult to engage muscles like hip flexors and glutes needed to lift your legs and move uphill smoothly.  

Use Those Arms

Driving your arms adds to your forward momentum, so focus on a quick, purposeful arm-swing to help carry you up that hill.

Control Your Breathing

It’s true that breathing becomes more labored on uphills due to their challenging nature. To not let the shortness of breath overtake you, embrace it. Take shorter breaths, while aiming to breathe in through your nose and out your mouth.


If a hill is extremely steep and you need to walk, walk with meaning. A power hike can be just as fast as a run on steep inclines. Without bending over excessively at the hips, place your hands on the tops of your thighs and push each thigh downward with each step. (This is a common method of ultrarunners and trail running racers on steep inclines.)


Have hills in an upcoming road or trail race, or just want to get better at running hills? Train on hills. That can mean running hilly routes, or doing hill repeats.

Hill Repeats

Hill repeats are short bursts of high-intensity effort uphill, followed by slow recovery jogs downhill, before repeating the uphill effort. The length of the uphill effort depends on your goals. If you’re just starting out doing hill repeats, running hard uphill for as short as 20 seconds or so, then jogging downhill and repeating, will benefit you. Aim for four or so hill repeats your first time out. (Make sure you warm up with a slow jog for 10-15 minutes beforehand, and cool down with at least a five-minute jog afterward.) 

As you train, both the incline and the duration of the hill repeats can increase. For instance, start off on a hill with a 3 or 4 percent incline and run up for 20 seconds four times. (Maybe do five or six the second week.) After doing this once a week for two weeks, try an incline of 5 or 6 percent for 30 seconds per uphill effort, and build from there.