FEEL GREAT FOR SPORT: Uphill running - why it could hinder, not help your progress

Runners take part in the Parkrun at Maiden Castle in Durham. (7844179)

Runners take part in the Parkrun at Maiden Castle in Durham. (7844179)

First published in Sport

This question came in from a reader of the column this week:

“Paul, at present I meet with my friend twice a week to do some “uphill” running in an attempt to lose weight. We meet at Parklands Way on West Park in Hartlepool which has a nice steep bank for us to run up, and then walk back down. We do this five times. The only thing is I’ve woken up the next day on both occasions with a sore Achilles and a stiff back – both worse each time. Am I doing something wrong? And what are your thoughts on running up hills? Many people I talk to are of mixed opinions so I thought I’d ask you.

Claire B, late 30s, Hartlepool

THIS is one of the most common mistakes runners make. Let me explain why: You’re not designed to run up hills nor do you need too to keep fit or lose weight. Sure, you might work a bit harder by running up a hill, but you’re adding huge stress to your lower back muscles and Achilles tendon muscles by doing so.

If you were in training for something that involved lots of steep hills, such as the route for the Great North Run, then doing this type of thing would probably help you achieve your goal.

But here’s why it’s likely to do more harm than good: When you run or even walk up banks, your natural instinct is to lean forward to make it easier. When you do this, your lower back muscles have to work ten times as hard, and that’s no exaggeration. Standing up and leaning over or bending forward for any sustained period of time will add at least ten times the stress to your lower back than if you stand up tall and straight.

If your back muscles are not ready to cope with this extra stress and they’re not strong enough because you haven’t been doing things like core stability or Pilates-style exercises, then you will notice a negative effect.

As for your Achilles tendon, think of an elastic band being stretched too far. The tension created means it’s likely to snap and every time you stretch it too far, you’re closer to that “snap” actually happening because of the weakness that is being created.

It’s the same with your Achilles tendon when you run up hills. Because you’re leaning forward, your Achilles tendon is always at full stretch and means you’re likely to feel pain and tension by the end, or at very least the next day.

If that’s happening and it’s getting worse, you need to stop as soon as possible and find somewhere flat to run. If you are going to run up hills, stand as tall as possible and spend a month or so beforehand working on a balance ball, doing core exercises and maybe even Pilates.

Another tip: weight loss is 80 per cent what you eat and 20 per cent what exercise you do. If your goal is weight loss, I’d guess that you might even end up putting weight on. Why? Because you will get injured meaning a period of even less activity. Believe me, there’s much easier ways to lose weight. I hope this helps, and keep the questions coming to paul@paulgoughphysio.com.

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