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Running Hills Vs. Running Stairs

author image Lora Mays
Lora Mays is a RRCA-certified running coach. She has been running for more than 15 years and coaching since 2010. She has published articles on Plum Deluxe and in "Variance Magazine," among other publications. Johnson holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional strategic communications from the University of Minnesota.
Running Hills Vs. Running Stairs
Hill or stair training can help improve your ability to run uphill come race day. Photo Credit Mike Powell/Photodisc/Getty Images

The intrigue of running faster and improving your performance makes the sport anything but boring. To take your running to the next level, integrate uphill interval workouts into your training. Jack Daniels, founder of the Daniels' Running Formula, estimates that you slow 12 to 15 seconds per mile when going uphill. However, by building hill and stair intervals into your training, your muscles can experience many benefits.

Benefits of Running Hills

A 2013 study published in the "International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance" found that runners who focused on adding hills to their training were able to improve their 5k race times by 2 percent. Running up hills requires you to lift your knees higher and helps to develop your muscle fibers. In turn, you increase your speed and overall power, which can result in significant pace improvements. The intensity of hill running helps you to improve your running economy, or your body's efficiency in using oxygen. This will come in handy when you face a hill at mile 6, 10 or even 15 in a race.

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Challenges of Running Hills

Downhill running results in high impact for your muscles and joints. The impact on your joints and muscles increases by more than 50 percent when you run downhill. This impact is typically absorbed primarily by your quads, as well as the joints and tendons in your legs. Running hills can also be mentally taxing. Running coaches recommend that runners break the hill into mental pieces or pretend they are grabbing a rope as they propel themselves up the hill. Overcoming the mental challenge of hills can be beneficial come race day.

Benefits of Running Stairs

A 2005 study published in the "British Journal of Sports Medicine" demonstrated the benefits of stair exercise. Just by walking stairs, participants were able to improve their V02 max, or the measurement of their aerobic fitness, by 17 percent. Running stairs amplifies this increase while allowing runners to use their muscles in a running-specific motion, which can help to increase strength, power and overall endurance. For those who live in regions that aren't hilly, stairs offer a suitable substitute.

Cons of Running Stairs

Because of the strenuous nature of running stairs, runners forget that they need to increase the number of repetitions or sets. The body adapts to stressors over time. Instead, progressing your stair workouts while focusing on proper form will provide long-term training benefits. Running stairs is also weather dependent. Wet weather conditions cause stairs to be slippery and create a dangerous running environment. It's best to skip stair running on a wet day rather than increase your chances of slipping and injuring yourself.

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