Method Approach to Uphill and Downhill Running

Coach Paul Greer of the San Diego Track Club has been helping runners train for the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & 1/2 for 20 years running! In this series, we’ll feature tips, workouts and programs, courtesy of Coach, that will help you conquer your first or 100th marathon!

Uphill Running

In approaching hill running, shorten your stride as you start uphill. I suggest you do not try to maintain the same pace you were running on the flat. This will only exhaust you and leave you depleted later in your run.

If necessary, take baby steps and try to keep the same turnover rhythm uphill as on the flat. Your posture should be upright. Avoid leaning forward or backward. Head, shoulders and hips should form a straight line over the feet. Keep your feet low to the ground and if your breathing begins to quicken this means you’re either going too fast, over striding or bounding too far off the ground.

If the hill is long or the grade increases, keep shortening your stride to maintain a smooth and efficient breathing pattern. I suggest running through the top of the hill, in other words do not crest the hill and immediately slow down or pull back on your effort, rather, accelerate gradually into the downhill as gravity is now on your side.

When running uphill try to maintain the same effort that you use on level ground. Don’t worry if you’re slowing down going up, just reduce stride length accordingly. As you shorten your stride and keep your feet directly under your body, you’ll gain efficiency and competence. With competence comes confidence. In closing, you need to remember when running up hills, reduce your stride length but maintain the same stride rhythm and breathing rate. Good luck!

Downhill Running

When approaching downhills stay relaxed and do not over stride, you don’t want to catch too much air. Over striding pounds the feet, stresses the hamstrings and overuses the quadriceps at each footfall.

Keeping feet lower to the ground will give you more control. As a result of running downhill your stride will cover more ground than it does on flat terrain, and the distance should feel slightly shorter.

Remember to touch lightly with each step and let the steepness of the hill dictate your stride rate. If you start going too fast, shorten your stride slightly until it is under control. On gentle downgrades, I suggest leaning forward slightly to increase speed. Please be careful that leaning too much may chop your stride or make you go too fast.

Finally, visualize gravity pulling you downhill. The momentum you gain going downhill is a wonderful source of energy as you move to level terrain or to another hill. Always remember that on the downhills, increase your stride rhythm somewhat in response to the down slope, but don’t over-stride. It’s critical to keep feet low to the ground.

About Coach Paul Greer

Coach Paul Greer is Professor in Health and Exercise Science at San Diego City College and has a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science and 32 years coaching experience. Greer ran the mile in under four minutes (3:59.79) and was a 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier at 1500 meters with a 3:39.05. In addition to teaching at San Diego City, Greer also coaches for the San Diego Track Club; the largest running club in San Diego. He works with over 500 runners and is the Director for the Rockin N Runnin full and half marathon training program preparing athletes every year for San Diego’s Rock N Roll marathon/half marathon in June. Greer’s workouts cater for runners of all ages and abilities and he provides training schedules to his athletes on an individual basis.

Coach Paul Greer was featured in The Game Changer, the debut episode of Milestones, a video series that celebrates and commemorate the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series history.