The only thing getting you up that hill is the vision of slim inner thighs peeking out from under your sassy mini. Running hills burns calories, builds running efficiency, and boosts your quads and glutes. It also activates the muscles of the inner thigh -- but not as much as level ground running. If your goal is tauter, slimmer legs, don't abandon hill running altogether -- just make it part of a total weight-loss, body-shaping strategy.
A study published in the June 2000 issue of "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" studied the muscular effects of running on a level treadmill versus running on an incline. The researchers found that participants running on a 30 percent grade experienced greater activation in the muscles of the calves, quads and glutes. A 1997 issue of the "Journal of Applied Physiology" published a study showing that while running on a level surface activated approximately 90 percent of the muscle volume in the adductors, the three muscles that make up your inner thighs, running uphill only activated 83 percent of these muscles' volume. The gracilis muscle that lies superficially just inside your thigh experienced an 18 percent decrease in activation when running uphill.
Although the "Journal of Physiology" study showed that the activity in the inner thigh muscles diminished with running uphill, the adductors still do a lot of work to get you to the top of an incline. Running on flat and inclined terrain will tighten and strengthen the inner thigh muscles, but you may not be able to see those results if you have a layer of fat padding over the top of them. You cannot run off this fat directly -- spot training isn't possible, notes the American Council on Exercise. Leg lifts, vibration machines and plie squats won't burn this inner thigh fat off, either.
To slim down your thighs, you'll have to reduce excess fat all over your body. You may see this weight come off from your torso and arms first -- the thighs usually remain as trouble areas for women, notes ACE. But the only way to get closer to your goal of achieving tighter inner thighs is to create a calorie deficit -- meaning you burn more calories than you consume. Running uphill can help you burn calories -- more so than running on a level ground. Additional strategies in your body-shrinking and inner-thigh tightening quest include a portion-controlled, healthy diet and regular strength training, which increases the amount of lean muscle mass on your body. More muscle results in a higher resting metabolic weight and, as you lose weight, a tighter, leaner frame.
Uphill running will make you a better runner, even if it doesn't noticeably improve your inner thigh tone. Your stamina and speed improve with regular hill running. You may even protect yourself from injury, according to "Shape." Running uphill puts less stress on your shin bones, which can be a cause of painful shin splints.
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: An Integrated Biomechanical Analysis of High Speed Incline and Level Treadmill Running
- Journal of Applied Physiology: Lower Extremity Muscle Activation During Horizontal and Uphill Running
- American Council on Exercise: So, You Want To Spot Reduce? Here’s How
- American Council on Exericse: Why is the Concept of Spot Training Considered a Myth?
- Shape: Hill Running: 5 Reasons to Love the Incline
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.