Since writing an article about hill running techniques a few months ago, I’ve received a number of emails asking me to expand a little on one of the specific tips.
In the article I mentioned the importance of picking your feet up to help recruit those important Hamstring (rear thigh) muscles, to assist in the action of swinging the leg forwards onto the next stride.
Increasing the role of the Hamstring muscles in bringing the foot up towards the butt as (height depends on speed) the leg swings, acts to shorten the lever arm of the swinging leg acting upon the hip, making it easier on the Quads and Hip Flexors (particularly Rectus Femoris, Iliopsoas, and TFL) for them to create the desired hip flexion, bringing the leg into the ‘knee up’ position needed to advance uphill with the next step.
So often I meet runners who feel that their Quads and Hip Flexors ‘do all the work’ as they run uphill, leaving them fatigued and unable to maintain good posture and technique as they continue their run.
Simply learning to increase the role of the Hamstrings will not only offload the Hip Flexors and Quads to a degree, it will also help you maintain a better running posture as you run uphill.
From an injury prevention point of view; so many of the common running injuries can be caused by muscular imbalances around the knees, hips and pelvis – essentially some muscles working too hard, while others become under active.
I use technique focused hill running session as a means of improving muscle activation patterns. Running moderate hills with good form, focusing on lifting the foot and achieving good posture is a great means of learning and reinforcing good form.
A word of caution – running hills with poor form (very Quad and Hip Flexor dominant) can act to only reinforce muscular imbalances. I’m not saying injury is inevitable in this case, but it will increase your chances of developing an imbalance which can lead to injury.