How to run hills


Glenn Hughes is a top mountain runner and took Serpies out for a hill running session on Box Hill. Here’s the session plan.

On Saturday 12th September about 30 Serpies headed to Box Hill in Surrey for a specialist hill training session with Glenn Hughes. Glenn is one of our fastest runners and has represented New Zealand at the world mountain running championships on seven occassions. Below is the session plan, which contains a lot of great tips to improve your own hill running.

This session will be run again on Saturday 19th December at Parliament Hill; contact Glenn Hughes if you would like more information.

Session plan

The session begin with technique work. Do each technique for a single run of about 150 metres.

Technique work – uphill

  1. Muscle initiation: Switching on and running with the glutes, using the quads and calves for stability only. The glutes provide the power to get up the hill.
  2. Posture: Lean forward slightly into the hill from the hips while keeping the upper body straight and hips level at 90 degrees to the ground. At the same time landing with a flat foot with a slight heel strike to gain maximum surface area contact with the ground and maximum grip. However, for really steep hills running on the forefoot/toes will be unavoidable due to ankle flexibility.
  3. Stride length: The most efficient way to run up a hill is with a short stride and high cadence. To achieve this, the hamstrings need to be employed to flick the heels back and bring the feet quickly back underneath the body.
  4. Arms/shoulders: Arms and shoulders should be relaxed and swing through naturally to provide momentum and driving force. Most of the momentum comes when driving the elbows back away from the body. Arm swing speed should match your cadence.
  5. Power walking: the key to power walking is to use it before you’re too tired otherwise you will be unable to do it efficiently. The technique involves the same posture as above, except you use your arms/hands on your knees to drive your legs down.
  6. Uphill to flat/downhill transitions: When cresting the top of a slope it is often hard to get the legs going due to lactic acid build up. The best way to overcome this is to create small circles with the legs with high knee lift and heel lift which will help pump blood through the legs. A strong driving arm motion will also help with momentum.

Technique work – downhill

  1. Posture: Lean forward down the hill to accelerate/gain momentum while staying within your ability. Keep your feet landing under your hips. Plant the foot with a slight heel strike to help with stability (lifting the toes upon impact if needed). Push off with the legs when landing to minimise impact forces with the ground.
  2. Stability: Run with legs wide apart (exaggerate this if needed) and arms wide and low. A slight rotation of the hips will also help with stability. Again the glutes play an important role with stability, so use these muscles when landing and pushing off.
  3. Braking: The most efficient way to brake is not to lean backwards and begin pounding the ground, but to decrease your stride length and increase your cadence. Scan ahead for possible areas where you will need to brake so you can prepare to slow down safely.

Main session

The main hill session at Box Hill was intended to last 30min on a looped course with approximately 80m elevation gain per loop and each loop taking 5-8 minutes. Runners started in their own time so not to replicate race conditions and employed all of the techniques they’d just been taught.

The men at the session ended up doing only about fifteen minutes, as a few had to stop to get the next train back to London and this caused a domino effect with all the Serpie guys soon stopping. As they posed for a photo, the Serpie women showed them up by remaining hard at work completing the session!

The male contingent at the session

Warm down

The whole remaining group warmed down with a gentle loop of Box Hill to Salomon Lookout and then a relaxing pub lunch in the sun.


Glenn Hughes joined Serpentine shortly after arriving in London 18 months ago and has represented New Zealand at the world mountain running champs on seven occasions.