How to Start Uphill Walking

  • Aug 17, 2023
  • Wellbeing

Man and women uphill walking

Walking uphill might not be the most popular form of exercise but walking on an incline has several added benefits as opposed to regular walking. In this article, we’ll look at why you should start hill walking and what to consider before starting.

The possible benefits of uphill walking

Cardiovascular benefits

When walking on an incline, your body must work against the added resistance of gravity and therefore it works harder. The steeper the incline, the higher the demand on your body. Your lungs work harder by breathing faster and deeper to get additional oxygen around your body and your heart beats faster to increase blood flow, which can be good for your cardiovascular health.

High-intensity but low-impact

Walking uphill can be as effective as running but puts less stress on your bones and joints which can make uphill walking a safer and more comfortable form of exercise. Uphill walking is a good high-intensity workout option for people with most abilities, including those with osteoarthritis or joint pain.

Engaging the glutes

Just like regular walking, uphill walking engages the core and the lower body muscles, but walking on an incline specifically targets the glutes. Having strong glutes is important for the entire body and can decrease the risk of getting lower back pain. However, good form while walking uphill is important for activating the glutes and incorrect posture can lead to muscle strain.

Burning calories efficiently

The hard work that you body does while walking up a steep hill increases metabolism and can burn more calories than walking on level ground. This will help you maintain a healthy weight.

Mental health benefits

Engaging in any outdoor exercise such as hill walking can have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing, including improved mood, reduced stress and increased confidence.

The challenges of uphill walking

Can cause injuries or muscle strain

As mentioned before, incorrect posture when walking uphill can cause strain on your muscles. Here are some tips to keep a correct posture when walking uphill:

  • Keep your head up. The human head is heavy and when walking uphill, it might come as an instinct to drop your head. This can shift the alignment of your entire body and cause strain on your neck, shoulders or even back.
  • Lift your chest up and keep your shoulders wide. Don’t bend your waist while walking uphill. Keeping a straight back and relaxed shoulders can make breathing easier.
  • Bend your ankles to lean into the slope instead of your waist.
  • Swing your arms gently while walking with a slight bend at the elbow. This can give you some momentum and help with blood circulation and burning more calories.
  • Maintain a rhythmic pace and controlled and deep breaths to increase your oxygen intake.

After making it to the top, descending might seem a breeze in comparison to going uphill, however, walking downhill can put more strain on your knees and ankles because you hit the ground harder with every step. This can also increase the risk of slipping or falling and therefore causing injuries. When walking downhill, the leg muscles lengthen in order to slow the body down. This is known as eccentric exercise and is believed to produce delayed muscle soreness so you’re more likely to wake up with pain the next day, especially if you’re not used to walking downhill.

Requires appropriate kit for outdoor walking

Hill walking is an outdoor activity, therefore having the appropriate kit can help you have a safer and more comfortable experience, especially if you’re planning a longer or more difficult walk. Here are some things you should consider taking with you on a hill walk:

  • Walking shoes that give you enough support for your ankles and have good grip for rough and loose terrain.
  • Suitable clothing for the weather such as breathable, lightweight, and waterproof clothing.
  • A hat which can shield you from sun or keep you warm in colder temperatures.
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses to protect your skin and eye from harmful UV rays.
  • Plenty of water to keep you hydrated during your walk.
  • Some food to keep your energy levels up, especially on longer walks.
  • Other equipment according to the lengths and difficulty of your walk such as map and compass, first aid kit, whistle, and torch.

Dependent on weather

Like most outdoor activities, uphill walking is dependent on weather. By checking the weather forecast in advance such as temperature, precipitation, wind and potential hazards, you can better prepare for your walk.

Dependent on your local landscape

Hill walking might not be accessible to everybody. Depending on your local area, uphill walking can be done on a hill, a mountain or on any elevated terrain. You can also get the benefits of uphill walking on an incline treadmill which is a safer option as you’re in a controlled environment. You can use the National Trust website to help you find an uphill walk near you.

Tips for starting uphill walking

Walking uphill can be a rewarding challenge for beginners with the right approach. Here are some tips to make your journey easier and more enjoyable:

  • Warm up by walking on level ground for five minutes before you face the incline. This will prepare your muscles and heart for the extra effort.
  • Take smaller steps to help you lift your body up the slope while reducing the strain on your calves.
  • Use your ankles to lean forward and align your body with the hill. This will help you keep balance and reduce strain.
  • Keep your head and chest up to maintain a good posture and reduce the strain on your neck and back.
  • Pump your arms back and forth to help you move forward and upward, as well as balance your body.
  • Listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard. If you feel too tired or breathless, slow down or stop to catch your breath and recover.

The bottom line

Uphill walking can be a rewarding form of exercise and can help you stay fit, burn calories efficiently and improve your cardiovascular health. Being outdoors also benefits your mental health by reducing stress. However, walking it can be challenging and bring significant risks so it’s important to keep a good posture and consider preparing ahead according to the lengths and difficulty of your walk. You can do this by finding appropriate clothing and kit and checking the weather forecast, this will reduce the risk of strain and injuries.

For more information on why walking is good for your health, take a look at one of our articles on the benefits of walking or check out this article for more ideas on outdoor summer activities.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.