How to Build Leg Strength for Running Hills & Climbing

Hill runs require strong legs.

Hill runs require strong legs.

The feeling of empowerment when you reach the top of a hill run is exhilarating. You feel you can accomplish anything when your legs are strong and powerful beneath you. When you are adding hill runs and climbs into your workout, but find yourself struggling with the strength to move vertical instead of horizontal, add leg-building exercises into your weekly workout. You'll need exercises that strengthen your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and glutes. A few days a week of strengthening your lower body will have you ascending that hill in no time.


Stand with your feet spaced hips-distance apart. Hold onto a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your elbows and raise the dumbbells up toward your shoulders. Face your palms toward each other.

Position most of your body weight in your heels, so that you could lift your toes if asked. Inhale, bend your knees, keeping your knees over your heels and sink your hips as if sitting into a chair. Aim to lower your hips until your thighs are parallel with the floor and use three or four seconds to sink into the squat. The end position resembles that of a hover over a public toilet seat with your backside pushed out behind you.

Exhale, straighten your legs and return to a standing position within one or two seconds. Repeat the squat eight to 12 times and for one to three sets to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. Rest for 60 seconds in between sets.

Glute Activation Lunges

Stand tall with your feet lined up with your hips. Extend your arms out straight from your shoulders to resemble Frankenstein arms.

Shift your weight onto your left foot. Inhale and raise your right foot off the floor and step in front of your left foot. Imagine you are facing the hands of a giant clock and you are standing toward 12. Place your right foot on the floor at a 9 o'clock position.

Bend both knees as you lower into the lunge. Rotate your torso to the right to also work your core.

Exhale and push off the floor with your right foot as you return to the starting position. Complete eight to 12 lunges with your right crossing over your left before you switch and complete the same number in the other direction.

Perform one to three sets of each to strengthen your glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings.

Box Jumps

Set the stable box, or aerobic step on the floor in front of you. Stand facing the box with your feet at, or narrower than hip-distance apart. Keep your arms straight along your sides.

Inhale, bend your knees into a squat and swing your arms behind you. This is a quick movement and you will not remain in the squat long.

At the bottom of your squat, quickly swing your arms forward and jump up onto the box. Keep your feet and legs parallel with each other. Land with both feet on the box and aim to land without making too much noise.

Bend your knees into a squat as you land. Tighten your stomach and keep your spine straight.

Stand tall and step down from the box. Repeat the box jumps as many times as you are able to. Aim to complete 12 box jumps. Rest for two minutes and repeat to strengthen your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.

Items you will need

  • Dumbbells
  • 6-inch to 12-inch high box or aerobic step


  • Use the lower body exercises two to three times a week with at least one day of rest in between workouts. Run on the opposite days you strength train.


  • If you experience any hip, knee, ankle or back pain, stop the exercise immediately. Check with your doctor regarding the safety or strength training for you.

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About the Author

A mother of two and passionate fitness presenter, Lisa M. Wolfe had her first fitness article published in 2001. She is the author of six fitness books and holds an Associate of Arts in exercise science from Oakland Community College. When not writing, Wolfe is hula-hooping, kayaking, walking or cycling.

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