Mountain running is a tough workout, and it's not uncommon to feel slightly out of breath just after the start. Even enthusiastic athletes who train regularly feel the intensity that training on the mountain offers.
Although mountain running is no picnic, this type of training provides the body and mind benefits every athlete desires. "First and foremost, it's tough and you get the best bang for your buck in terms of cardiovascular aerobic performance—and when you're short on time and want to put in a great workout," says Adam Merry, Saucony athlete and running coach. And while running on a mountain is just plain exhausting, according to Merry, there's a feeling of strength and confidence when you get to the top.
The intensive incline training trains the body from head to toe. "Your quads, hamstrings and glutes all light up when you're climbing uphill," he says. "Your calves are also firing to propel you up when you're climbing." And like most running exercises, your core muscles also matter, "especially the slight forward lean you need to run uphill efficiently."
With that, Merry explains the steps to help you get the most out of your mountain training and take your fitness to the next level.
Step-by-step guide to mountain running
Pro tip: Merry suggests finding a hill on a path. The landscape and varied terrain make the route go by faster than walking uphill on a road.
The important things first. You have to put your mind on the right path. “Sometimes hill running is Type 2 fun – it's fun in hindsight,” he says. "But I don't think I've ever finished a climb or a workout and didn't feel successful at it!"
w that your scenery and attitude are spot on, Merry shares his top tips to help you succeed on your next mountain run.
- Maintain good posture: Remain upright and lean slightly toward the hill, but avoid full waist flexion. Think of this as a slight incline in your torso while keeping your back straight and core tight. This keeps your airways open and allows for efficient oxygen intake.
- Claim your core: A strong, committed core stabilizes you while climbing.
- Gently swing your arms: Bring your arms forward and back (not across your body), matching your arm swing with your stride. Your arms should be at about a 90 degree angle. This gives you extra momentum. Make sure you find a good rhythm and move your arm evenly.
- Shorten your stride: When climbing, focus on shortening your strides a bit rather than taking big strides. This technique is more energy efficient and protects the muscles. This also helps you avoid rocks or roots when running on a trail.
- Look ahead, not down: Focus your gaze ahead, not on your feet. This helps maintain good posture and balance.
- 6. Try to relax: Keeping your face, shoulders and upper body relaxed improves your performance and is a good premise for not working beyond your capacity! That doesn't mean you shouldn't work hard, but when you're running uphill it's easy to overdo it and you should try to accelerate your effort so that you end up with a strong goal!
The don'ts of mountain running
Just as there are things to avoid in every exercise and sport, Merry shares some pretty important "don'ts" to avoid in hill training.
- Don't start too fast: There is nothing more painful than starting to climb hills too fast. This makes it hurt a lot more. Usually the time is slower overall because you end up exploding, and mentally it can make you feel a little depressed because you've been fading all the time. Try to start conservatively and finish faster.
- Don't skip the warm-up: A proper warm-up prepares your muscles for exercise and reduces the risk of injury. I like to do a few simple leg swings, light quad stretches, and two to three 15-second steps just to make sure everything is going well and warmed up.
- Don't neglect recovery: After training on the mountain, your muscles need time to repair and adapt. If it's hill training and you're putting in a lot of work, Merry recommends a 3:1 carb/protein recovery shake.
- Don't ignore the pain: While mild muscle soreness is normal, sharp or persistent pain is not. Listen to your body and slow down or stop running if necessary. Heeding these queues early, rather than rushing through, helps foster long-term growth and injury-free running.
Mountain training tips for beginners
Merry recommends starting with a smaller and less steep hill for the first launch; A grade of three to four percent can be a good start. "Consider a mix of walking and running first (I walk uphill all the time when it gets hard/steep, that's part of it!)" says Merry. "If you can't run uphill at all to begin with, walk up the hill at a brisk pace and then jog or walk down to recover." As your strength and fitness improves, Merry recommends that you do 15 to 30 seconds long uphill running mixed with equal or 2 to 3 times longer uphill walking periods (eg, 60 to 90 seconds).
Try Merry's Hill beginner and intermediate running workouts
- Warm up: Start with a 10-15 minute run on flat ground
- Hill Reps: Find a moderate hill (3-4% grade) that takes about 60-90 seconds to climb. It's also okay to pick a spot 60-90 seconds up a longer hill and just turn back halfway! Run up at a challenging but sustainable pace and try to finish faster than you started. Then jog or walk back to your starting point for a rest.
Repeat this 4-6 times. As your fitness improves, increase the number of repetitions.
- 4 60-second hill runs with a walk or run recovery
- Cooldown: Finish the exercise with a 10-minute jog or walk on easy terrain.
- Two to three mile warm up
- Five moderate/difficult 3-minute hills with a short recovery period
- Bonus: Two 5-minute tempo runs on level ground with 2-minute rests in between immediately after the hills
- Two to three mile cooldown