Hill running to protect your Knees

Hit the hills to boost your running economy
and protect your knees.
runner on mountain top
       From the Sydneyrunning website, article by Peter Colagiuri.

Hill running can result in improved power (rapid generation of force) for all runners. But most road races don’t have any decent hills and marathoners don’t “sprint” unless they’re within 100m of the finish line (or an attractive runner of the opposite gender). So it seems if you want to train for your specific race conditions, you’d be avoiding hills whenever possible, but……


Hill sprints add power and can improve running economy. This means that you will be better able to cope with gradients and steps and you will be better equipped to run on flat ground, requiring less effort and energy. Hill sprints can be protective of knee injuries, possibly because they improve the stability of your trunk, pelvis and feet. As you run hills, your body naturally stabilises through the trunk, pelvis and feet in order to optimise the effect of force generated in the legs. The foot becomes semi-rigid while in contact with the ground, and the pelvis is level and doesn’t tilt. This allows the leg power to translate more effectively into trunk propulsion.Hill sprints are high intensity sessions, so you can get bigger benefits from shorter training (time and/or distance). This means that you can squeeze a worthwhile session into a lunch break or even on a brief “detour” on the way home from work. And the benefit of shorter training distances is that you can minimise your exposure to mileage, therefore reducing the risk of sustaining a running injury. Several studies have linked increased km/week with the risk of sustaining an injury, suggesting a threshold level of between 40km/week and 64km/week.

The format of hill sprints can be tailored to the needs of the runner. All sessions will involve a warm up and cool down period. Runners training for road races up to 10km may find a session with a number of uphill 30-50m sprints with a downhill walking recovery to be effective. Sprints begin on a flat section of equal distance to the uphill section to build pace, and the runner must maintain this pace to the end of the sprint. Runners training for races over longer distances may be best suited to longer hills of 50-100m, with a more active recovery such as an easy run recovery phase. For these longer hills, runners can plan a course with several hills of similar length spaced evenly throughout the middle section of the run, either immediately after one another or with flat “recovery” sections in between each hill. Alternatively you can detour via a decent hill on your regular run and try hill sprints while slightly fatigued, however this is a more advanced session and should not be attempted by all runners. Also note that hard running should be avoided on downhill sections in all hill sprints session due to the higher impact forces generated with the mix of speed and muscle fatigue.

So road runners looking to improve their running economy – or simply looking for some variety in their training while reducing their load – will benefit from the addition of a hill sprint session. If your road race has any hills then this type of session will reduce fatigue and improve your speed on the incline. However if you are new to running or have just returned after a prolonged absence, you should not add this type of session to your weekly training schedule until you have estabilshed a base (usually around 12 weeks of consistent training).