At the beginning of your run, the smooth, flat and even surface of the ground helps you gain and maintain momentum. As you pick up your pace – and suddenly you feel like you’re flying and not running – you notice something structurally different about the path up ahead. Less than a half a mile away is an intimidating incline along a steep hill that you’re not prepared for!
If your legs haven’t been conditioned to successfully ascend ramps, hills, bridges, mountains and other upward obstacles, you may be inclined to turn around and head back to safer, lower ground.
But wait – don’t turn back! If you can train yourself to face your fears head-on, those inclines won’t be so discouraging. The average runner can painlessly conquer an array of hills and get past the strain and anxiety of inclines without putting a dent in their routine. Here are just a few suggestions to getting over that hump:
How Steep Is the Obstacle?
If you come across a sudden incline with a high angle – and no window of time to endure a gradual uphill battle – you may want to modify your running technique. You’ll hit the wall a lot faster if you don’t prepare yourself for the steepness of the upcoming hill and try to sprint the whole way up. If the incline is steeper than it looked from the bottom, walking some of the ways – and even taking a break in the middle – can prevent your legs and cardio from losing wind too soon.
A small incline can be a breeze and a minor challenge that, when ventured over often enough, can condition your body to push a little harder and use leg muscles that haven’t been strengthened. Remembering to stretch before your run is also key in prepping the muscles to handle the steepness of upcoming hills.
What Does The Foundation Of The Incline Consist Of?
Are you running on dirt? Concrete? Grass? Depending on the surface, the incline may not hurt as much as you think. Grass and dirt have some give to them along the softer terrain, so you may not feel the strain of running up these type of inclines. Of course, running up concrete or paved grounds will be more of a challenge, as you’ll feel the impact of your feet hitting these surfaces almost as soon as you begin the upward climb. As you’re pushing harder against completely flat and solid surfaces, you’ll learn to control the force you apply to your feet and legs.
Go Slow – But Don’t Stop!
If you’re truly challenging yourself to stay consistent on your run and conquer that incline, especially if it’s in new territory, slow your pace down as you approach the hill. You may be thinking, “I’m trying to beat my PR time, why slow down now!”
However, if you literally race up the course and force your cardio and muscular ability into full throttle, you could find yourself crashing at the top of the hill from exerting yourself too fast, too soon. You can avoid sabotaging your energy by running slower with tiny steps as if jogging slowly. Try to make the climb a little more bearable for your muscles as you’re ascending until you’ve covered that same incline enough times to master its gravitational challenges.
Modifying your pace while going uphill will allow you to store energy and stamina while preventing loss of momentum. Subsequently, once you’ve reached the top of the incline and return to normal, flatter ground, you can pick up your regular speed and maintain that amazing pace!
Put Your Upper Body To Use
Climbing any surface is hard on the legs when you’re pushing them to no avail on a long incline. One reason experts say having a strong upper body helps with running techniques is that it helps maintain a strong form and distributes the workout through the rest of the body. While approaching -and as you’re conquering – that incline, move your shoulders, arms, and hands almost as if you’re punching the air ahead of you in easy strides.
Not only will using your upper body take some of the stress and weight off of your legs, it will help you build upper body strength. After a few runs along challenging inclines, you may find that growing upper body strength plays a bigger part in improving your training techniques than you thought possible!
The Dreaded Treadmill Is Your Friend!
Oh, that pesky “hamster wheel” feeling you get when you’re on the treadmill! It’s the bane of many outdoor runners’ existence! Despite the bad reputation treadmills receive from so many athletes, we all know it’s a useful strength-training tool that has endless possibilities!
If you have access to a treadmill, practicing on inclines can prepare you for real-world hills and elevations. Beginning with an easy, slow trot and gradually increasing the incline will give you a taste of how your legs will handle real hills. Alternating between walking and light running, pushing against the highest angle, will test your ability to make that climb while also teaching you which muscles you need to be “master of the hills.”
The treadmill’s steady incline can assist with isolating the glute (gluteus maximus) muscles to power through that run and ascend with ease. As a tip, don’t spend too much time exerting your glutes on the treadmill, as it could affect the recovery time you need for your next run. Paying special attention to your hamstrings is another way to improve your uphill game and prevent muscle tightening after the climb. Long strides while using the incline on a treadmill at a slow pace can help stretch hamstrings and keep them considerably loose.
Whatever method you choose to get over the exhausting hump of incline running, you can rest assured that those awaited declines are the light at the end of the tunnel!
As you get stronger and prepare your muscles for battle, you won’t be making a mountain out of a molehill!