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Uphill Running Technique – from Colin Papworth


Colin Papworth works at the Accelerate Performance Centre (APC) as resident Podiatrist and has for years, taken the lead on all matters of running form/gait analysis/footwear assessment.  He hosts our 4hr Running Form Workshops and was in attendance as ‘drop in’ guru during the recent Big Running Weekend.  Here then, he shares the basics of how to successfully run uphill.




The idea here, to give some insight into what is good running technique, what it looks like and how to get there.   Also why running technique is important in relation to injury prevention and performance improvement:

So often we see people running who are only using a few muscles. Namely the quads and calves for up hill running. So, if you are leaning forward or calves are screaming at you then this is probably the case. Muscles work so much more efficiently when they are stretched before they have to contract, so if we can load then with a bit of stretch when we are in the stance phase of gait they will deliver more power in the push phase. Think of stretching out an elastic band, the bigger the stretch the more power is provided when we release it. Cadence is the number of steps we take and is measured in steps per minute. The higher the number the less time on the ground and shorter the stride. So cadence is a bit like your running gears, steeper the hill the faster the cadence and shorter the stride.

So this is what it is all about. Remember to address these things and that is all there is to it!

Start with your posture. This is so important as it is really hard to change anything else without first addressing your posture. If you lean forward you over stride, over use the muscles in the front of your legs, do not use hamstrings or glutes efficiently and do not have a good balance between the front and back of your body. Standing taller and not bending forward from the hips / waist is the key.

Arm swing will drive your foot and leg motion. The important bit is driving back with your elbows and trying to keep hands high. Keep arms moving from the shoulder and not rotating with your body. Elbow drive behind you will encourage more push from the legs behind you.

One reason you may be finding it hard running up hill is if you over stride. This causes a breaking force and means you have to move past your foot in the contact position. So keeping contact close to you minimise these factors and means you can move into the propulsive phase faster. So less time breaking and more time pushing.

So, to run more efficiently we have to produce more push and not be so reliant on the pull from the hips. So, if posture is good and arms are working well, we have not over reached at the point of contact then we should be in a position where we can push hard against the ground. So, stretch out the muscles at contact and then use the elastic return to help with the push. Muscles like to be stretched before they have to contract – think of the elastic band again. Big stretch more power generated.

Another quick physics lesson. A foot on the end of a long lever (leg) is heavier (takes more energy to move it) the further away from your bum it is. So if you want a fast leg / foot moving through the swing phase then you need as close to you as possible. So a higher heel makes for a faster cadence. It also makes for a contact closer to you and allows more drive through the knee. So not lift your foot but let it naturally swing back following a good push off phase. One last thing, a high knee drive through the swing phase will activate the stance leg hamstrings. Meaning they will be primed ready to push against the ground and recoil through the swing phase.

So that is running up hill. Posture first, arms second, contact close to you, push the ground away, allow muscles to stretch before firing and do not run too hard. Set the pace and cadence as one you sustain. If you are running a race / training run with lots of hills you do not want to fatigue small muscles quickly on the first hill. Use all your muscles and keep breathing. Have a look at diaphragm breathing – it will really help you if you are not doing this already.

Stuart, Laura and I are able to offer either one to one sessions or small group sessions on the hill if you want to go into this further. We use video on these sessions, so you can see what you are doing. All sessions are drills based and so suitable for everyone. These sessions will improve your up hill running confidence and can be tailor made to what you want to get out of the sessions. Please contact us for more information.

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