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Running on flat ground can be an intense exercise, but adding stairs or a hill takes that intensity to a higher level, both literally and figuratively. Running up hills or on stairs forces you to work against gravity, turning a running session into a body-weight workout. There are a few differences to consider if you'd like to add hills or stairs to your running regimen.
To run up a hill, use short strides and a high knee lift. Lengthen your stride a bit if the hill flattens out, then shorten your stride if the hill becomes steeper again. Strike the ground with the balls of your feet before letting your heels hit the hill. Maintain an erect posture and keep your head up whether you're ascending or descending the hill. On the way down, maintain a steady, controlled pace and lift your feet as little as possible. You can use a similar stride to run up stairs as you do on hills, although sprinters should focus on a high turnover rate. You can also do a lunging run by taking two stairs at a time, angling toward the right of the stairs with your right leg and to the left with your left leg. You can also hop up the steps on one or both feet. Typically you'll use the downward portion as a recovery with either a walk or jog, being careful to avoid tripping.
Hill running will stretch and strengthen your calf muscles, particularly as you ascend the hills. It will also work the muscles in the front of each leg in general, the quadriceps in particular. Stair climbing targets your quads and also works your calves, hamstrings and glutes, while engaging your core muscles as stabilizers.
Hill running can help you improve your stride length and turnover, resulting in faster running speed. Both hill and stair running use a running-specific motion to help develop your control, coordination and overall muscular endurance. Stair running can burn about 500 calories in 30 minutes. It's harder to calculate the calorie burn for hill running because each hill is different. However, running coach Tom Holland estimates that if you run up a hill and jog down the other side you'll burn up to 50 percent more calories than running on flat terrain.
The type of hill running you should perform depends on what you're hoping to gain. Run shorter distances up hills, from 40 to 55 yards, if you're looking for more of a sprinting or strength-building workout. Choose larger hills or run farther up the hill, about 165 to 220 yards, for a distance workout. Perform eight to 10 repetitions at your desired distance. The type of stair workout you do depends on your fitness level and experience with stair running. Beginners can walk or jog slowly up the stairs, ideally for at least five minutes. Run up the stairs if you're more experienced. You can also perform intervals by running up the stairs for one repetition, walking or jogging the next rep, then running again.
Warm up before doing either a hill-climbing or stair-climbing workout by performing five to 10 minutes of light cardio activity. Loosen your muscles with dynamic stretches, such as leg swings or kicks. Consult your physician before starting any new exercise routine. Stop running up stairs or hills if you feel pain or dizziness.