A Trail Runner’s Guide to Uphill Running

Some ascents can leave you walking, and that's OK. Photo: Chris Denucci

Adapted with permission of VeloPress from Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running by Lisa Jhung with illustrations by Charlie Layton. For more, visit velopress.com/trail.

When trails are steep, breathing becomes harder, legs fatigue more quickly, and you tend to feel every painstaking step. A few mental and physical cues can help the hills feel less mighty and more manageable:

Stand Tall: Folding over at the hips and dropping your head to look at your feet compresses the air flow from your diaphragm and lungs to your nose and mouth. Try to maintain as flat a back as possible by staying in an upright position.

Quick Feet: Shortening your stride and taking quick steps help maintain efficiency on climbs. Short strides also help keep you in a more upright position.

Drive Those Arms: Power and momentum comes from a strong arm swing, so pump away to help propel your lower body.

Walk: There is no shame in walking up a steep trail. Walking, in fact, is sometimes the faster and more efficient way to get up a hill.

Walk With Purpose: If you change your stride from a run to a walk, make each step powerful and purposeful, and continue to try to maintain an upright body position.

Everybody’s Got a Mountain to Climb

There are various approaches to body positioning and stride when climbing steep trails. Some runners prefer one way over the other, but most opt for a variety of the following, depending on the gradient of the hill.

Keep Running (Albeit Slowly)

Pros: Maintains momentum, physically and mentally

Cons: Can be slower than power hiking; keeps heart rate high, which adds to overall fatigue; it’s tough

Power Walking, Arms Swinging

Pros: Maintains optimal airflow for hard-breathing effort; slows heart rate to save energy; arm swing adds momentum

Cons: Upper body doesn’t get a break; takes more effort than walking with hands on hips or knees

Power Walking, Hands on Hips

Pros: Maintains optimal airflow for hard-breathing effort; slows heart rate to save energy; gives arms and upper body a break

Cons: No upper body momentum

Power Walking, Hands on Knees

Pros: Ability to push knees with each step adds power; slows heart rate to save energy; gives arms a break; provides a stretch in the lower back

Cons: Bent-over position compresses airflow; hunching can make back ache

RELATED: The 10 Commandments of Trail Running

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