Mastering Uphill Running: Practical Tips to Boost Uphill Running Speed and Stamina

Mastering Uphill Running: Practical Tips to Boost Uphill Running Speed and Stamina

As an elite fitness expert with a background in special forces training and multiple World Records, I’ve encountered various challenges, but few rival the intensity of uphill running. 

Here, we tackle a question many runners grapple with: How do you improve your uphill running game? As someone who’s spent their fair share of time conquering steep inclines, I’ve picked up many tricks I am happy to share with you. So, let’s dive in and learn how to amp up your uphill running speed and stamina.

  1. Embrace the Incline: When you hit an uphill stretch, don’t fight it. The first step in mastering uphill running is to embrace the challenge and think of the incline Individually and as a set of inclines within your chosen session. Instead of dreading uphill sections, view them as opportunities to push your limits and enhance your overall fitness because uphill running will help increase your overall running speed, power and endurance. Embrace the mental toughness required to tackle inclines head-on, knowing that each ascent and descent brings about more understanding of your limits and performance. 
  2. Focus on Technique: Overstriding is one of the biggest mistakes runners make on hills. Uphill running requires a subtle adjustment in running technique to optimise efficiency and conserve energy. Maintain a slightly forward lean from the ankles, engage your core muscles for stability, and drive your arms rhythmically to propel yourself forward. Shorten your stride length to maintain a quick cadence and minimise energy expenditure. Keep your feet low to the ground and aim for a smooth, efficient stride. Cadence in uphill running is critical. 
  3.  Build Lower Body Strength: Strengthening your lower body muscles is crucial for powering uphill climbs. Incorporate exercises such as squats, lunges, calf raises, soleus raises, and step-ups into your regular workout routine to target the muscles that work overtime on inclines. Additionally, cross-training and plyometric exercises like box jumps, jump squats, stepper efforts, and rowing can improve posterior chain strength and explosive power, helping you easily tackle steep inclines. And don’t forget about your core—strong abs and back muscles help maintain good posture and stability as you climb. 
  4. Ratio of training—Endurance, Strength, and Power Hills: It’s important to break your hill sessions within the individual session and over many weeks into three distinct categories and work with a progressive focus on all the areas of training.      
  5. Endurance Hills Effort 5-7/10: Initially, a large proportion of your training (80%)especially if you are a novice, should be less intense. You should still hold a high cadence, but the main focus is reduced effort inclines, which are challenging but very comfortable for the duration of the incline, normally lasting 3-60 minutes.      
  6. Strength Hills Effort 7-8.5/10: Initially, a smaller proportion of your trainingespecially if you are a novice, should be moderately intense, still holding a high cadence. The main focus is moderately hard and challenging but still primarily comfortable for the duration of the incline, usually lasting 1-20 minutes.
  7. Power Hills Effort 8.5-9.5/10: Initially, a small proportion of your trainingespecially if you are a novice, should be high intensity, still holding a high cadence. The main focus is hard work pushing hard uphill for the duration with arms pumping, high knees, and driving the legs. For the most part, the duration of the incline normally lasts 10-120 seconds.
  8. Building rations: As you move through the weeks of training, the ratio should move with your training somewhat like this: 
      1. Wk 1 Endurance 80% Strength 15% Power 5
      2. Wk 2 Endurance 70% Strength 20% Power 10%
      3. Wk 3 Endurance 60% Strength 25% Power 15%
      4. Wk 9 Endurance 30% Strength 40% Power 30%
  9. Specificity of Ratios: As you start to near your goal or race, there should be a steer more towards what your goal entails; if you are running an ultra with long, slow climbs over many days, then your ratio might be somewhat different with slightly less emphasis on Power and Strength work as you move through the programming. If you are doing something such as Paras 10 with short steep hills at speed and high intensity, then your ratio will suit that need. 
  10. Specificity of Elevation: As mentioned above, your goal target is critical and will play a huge part in preparing you for how you approach the elevation needs/goals throughout your training. If you are doing a race that requires 2000m of elevation, then your elevation training over your training phase will be very different than if you are doing only a 350m elevation race. Either way, the fundamental approach is the same: spending much of your training building on Endurance Base work elevation training and then improving speed and power once the main effort/distance/duration is mostly in place. 
  11. Focus on Breathing: Proper breathing technique is essential for sustaining effort during uphill running. Focus on deep diaphragmatic breathing to supply your muscles with oxygen-rich blood and alleviate the build-up of blood lactate. 
  12. Increase your downhill speed: Remember, if you go up, you need to come down; when you participate in any exercise, you need to look at the opposite action: Endurance, strength, and power efforts uphill as well as downhill. Most people feel they are slow downhill. Include high cadence 110-120RPM Bike work throughout the week, downhill steps training, good gripping footwear and a quality leg strength routine to ensure you have the confidence to drive downhill hard. 
  13. Transition hill training: Ensure when you are doing any hill ratio training that requires you to do a hill rep and then recovery that you continue through the effort and out of the incline and onto flat and downhill, pushing the same intensity. This will allow your muscle fibres to better adapt from uphill work, transitioning straight into downhill or flat and mitigating against fatigue, poor performance, and cramps! 
  14. Stay Consistent and Patient: Improving uphill running speed and stamina is a gradual process that requires dedication and patience. Stay consistent with your training, gradually increasing the intensity and volume of your workouts over time. Celebrate your progress along the way, but also be prepared to embrace setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning.

Conclusion: Build your base elevation based on your overall goal, then increase the speed at which you can do this base work and provide power to those inclines. Look and manage how much elevation you do each week, and increase it so it does not affect your overall pace too much. Think of the long game and what your weekly elevation is in 10 weeks or six months. Hills longer and faster yet easier in the long run. One foot in front of the other!

Running hills can be challenging but incredibly rewarding, elevating your overall fitness and performance. Enjoy the process, take in the scenery, soak up the challenge, and celebrate your victories—big and small. After all, it’s not just about the destination but the journey along the way.

By implementing the abovementioned strategies and approaching each uphill climb with determination and focus, you’ll soon find yourself conquering even the steepest inclines with confidence and ease.

I hope you find this helpful.

Best regards,

Nick Grainge

Elite Outdoor Fitness


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