Running Hills Is an "Excellent" Way to Burn Fat, an Expert Says — Here's How to Do It

Running hills is a surefire way to add intensity (and some pain) to your runs, but if you're trying to burn fat, it might be the way to go. Just ask the burn in your lungs: you're working harder, pushing your body, ramping up your heart rate. Putting in that extra effort means you're getting more benefit out of your run, especially in terms of weight loss.

Does Running Hills Burn Fat?

"Running hills is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise when it comes to burning fat," said exercise physiologist Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, a fitness adviser for Bowflex. A good hill workout, he told POPSUGAR, is essentially a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which has been shown to be extremely beneficial for burning fat and belly fat in particular.

Running up the hill while pushing the pace is your "work interval," while walking or slowly jogging back down is your rest period. "Think of running hills as both speed work and strength training combined," Tom said. The changes in altitude "will make you faster, more efficient, and stronger, while torching a ton of calories at the same time."

How to Run Hills For Fat Loss

"The great thing about hills is that they work for the beginner to the advanced athlete," Tom told POPSUGAR. "You run up at a speed that is challenging for you." For a beginner, he recommended starting with a shorter hill. Try one that takes you 10-30 seconds to run up, and repeat three to four times. As you get stronger, increase those reps (aim for one per week) until you're up to eight or 10 intervals. You can also push the length of time of each interval, up to 30-60 seconds or even more.

Another great thing about running hills: for such an effective weight loss workout, a hill interval run doesn't need to be long. "In fact, due to the higher intensity work involved, they should be on the shorter side," Tom said. He recommended this simple, 30-minute hill workout to start:

  • 10 minute easy run to warm up
  • 30 second uphill run at three-quarters speed
  • 60 second slow walk downhill to recover
  • Repeat for seven intervals
  • 4.5 minute easy run to cool down

Stretch out afterwards with this full-body stretch sequence.

For weight loss, you should do cardio two to three times a week. Tom recommended doing one steady-state workout, such as a longer, slower run or bike ride; one speed interval workout, like this sprint circuit; and one hill workout. For the best results and to lower your risk of injury, mix your cardio with two to three days of strength training, which builds lean muscle that boosts your metabolism.

Running hills gives you a burn everywhere: lungs, legs, even upper body. It's not an easy addition to any run or for any runner, which is why it's pretty great to hear that you really are getting more bang for your buck from the extra challenge. "When it comes to fat loss," Tom said, "the value of hill workouts cannot be understated."