Which muscles do I use when running and cycling up hills?

Nick Beer explains the muscles you use hill climbing, whether it be running or cycling, and how to strengthen them

Which muscles do I use when running and cycling up hills

Hill climbing engages the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves through concentric contractions. Here are their respective functions and suggested exercises to make them stronger:



The glutes control hip flexion and extend the thigh when running uphill. This allows correct form to be maintained. On the bike, they initiate the power phase on the downward pedal stroke.

Exercise: Single and double-leg hip thrusts.

Quads and hamstrings

These muscle groups work in sync to maintain efficiency and power when ascending. Quads kick in when the hip and knee extend and the hamstrings shortly follow to flex the knee to complete the pedal revolution and to maintain run cadence.

Exercise: Knee extension and leg press for quad/glute co-contraction and hamstring curls.


Calf muscles lift the heels up and shift weight forward when running. As we cycle, they’re involved in the continuation of the power phase from the downward leg thrust during each pedal stroke.

Exercise: Heel raises.


Not to be forgotten, this muscle group provides stability for our hips, maintains posture and helps us to utilise our energy more efficiently when we ascend.

Exercise: Plank and side plank variations.

Nick Beer is a sports injury rehab specialist, a development coach, and a former elite triathlete puresportsmed.com/team/nick-beer