Whether it’s running or cycling, I think it’s safe to say most people don’t enjoy climbing steep hills, primarily because it’s difficult. While it may not be everyone’s favorite exercise, hill work can dramatically improve your fitness performance and boost your calorie burn. So the next time you’re out for a hilly run or bike ride, keep these things in mind:

Uphill Running

  1. Shorten your stride length. Bring your foot strike in closer to your center mass, instead of out in front. The steeper the hill, the shorter your stride length should be. Keep in mind, at a certain point, it will become more practical to start walking. (Just how it feels more practical to start running when your speed increases.)
  2. Good posture is always important, but during a climb, it is paramount. Remain tall and open so you can keep the oxygen flowing and prevent your chest from partially collapsing, especially as your muscles become more tired.
  3. Try your best to keep a consistent effort level, regardless of terrain. Pushing yourself too hard up the hills will wear you out prematurely, which will slow your overall time and leave you with little energy to finish.
  4. If things get difficult, pump your arms with a slight increase in intensity and speed to keep your feet turning over at a decent rate. Be sure to keep your arms and legs in the sagittal plane or only moving forward and backward. Any rotational movement, such as swinging your arms across your chest, will only waste precious energy.

Downhill Running

  1. Don’t haphazardly jump into downhill running without knowing what you’re doing, or you’re likely to get injured. If done correctly, it can train your fast-twitch muscle fibers, prevent overuse injuries, increase your speed, and help you run longer distances.
  2. Don’t overstride. It can negatively affect your heel strike, knee lockout, and recovery in between strides. Try to stay around 90 RPMs to keep your stride length short and not allow your legs to overextend themselves.
  3. Maintain good running form. It will save your knees from unnecessary stress.
  4. If you’re using proper form, you can run on your toes slightly and let gravity help you a bit, instead of consciously having to slow yourself down.

Road Cycling

  1. When cycling uphill, the most important thing is gearing. For most people, normal spinning is around 80–85 RPMs. Once you start climbing, you should increase by 5–15 RPMs, depending on your leg length, crank arm length, personal preference, and how steep the hill is.This will not only help you maintain balance, but more consistent levels of torque as well.
  2. It’s imperative to keep your shoulders back and down with your chest open, so you can properly breathe.
  3. For especially difficult parts of a climb or for some variety on a longer climb, try standing up out of the saddle. Just be sure to upshift a gear or two in order to have something to push against.
  4. When cycling downhill, make yourself as invisible to the wind as possible. This is known as being aerodynamic or “getting into aero,” where you place your hands on the lowest section of the handlebars (known as the drops) and bend at your waist to lower your chest and head, creating a horizontal position (or close to it). This is an important stance because it still allows you to pedal while maintaining your speed and control.

Now, are you ready to tackle your next hill?

Josh Nuckles, iFit Trainer