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Simple Movement Tweak to Reduce Effort and Increase Pace When Power-Hiking a Crazy Grade

Legs and lungs screamin’.

Approaching two hours and over 2,000 feet of mostly continuous climbing up Angel Fire Mountain during the Angel Fire 50km. Getting so close to the nearly 11,000 ft crest.

The course led us runners next to the chairlift taking mountain bikers to the top of the mountain. Oh, the conversation they must have had watching all us runners slowly working our way to the same destination but…by foot.

The foot race veers left and we grunt our way up a loose, gravel type road/trail that has its own gnarly pitch.

Traction becomes an issue.

Move your weight a little too much forward and your foot loses traction and slides out from underneath you.

Move your weight too far back…well, that would hurt.

It was slow going.

A fellow runner slowly and progressively moves by me during the climb. We wish each other well with the small bit of air we were willing to give to such a task.

The grade continues to increase to such a level that my heels were not able to touch the ground. My forefoot was the only contact point which further reduced my traction and control, and also put some crazy tension on my calves. It was like doing constantly loaded calf raisers.

Have you been on such a trail?

You have to laugh. Then swear. Then laugh some more. At least the calves haven’t cramped.

And then this idea bubbled up.

I rotated my feet/legs outwards 45-70 degrees away from my direction of movement (straight in front of me).

I was then able to get my entire foot in contact with the loose surface which greatly increased my traction and stability. Cool.

I looked a bit like Charlie Chaplin trying to climb a mountain but without the cool cane, hat, and signature stash. (Btw, big Chaplin fan.)


Continuing the Chaplin technique, I quickly noticed how much easier the effort felt while also moving along the crazy pitch much faster than I was pre-Chaplin.

Once through the 10-15 minutes of nasty grade, I returned to my somewhat normal movement patterns but couldn’t help but reflect on the benefits I noticed with this movement tweak:

  • More traction and stability.
  • Reduction in perceived effort.
  • Increased pace.
  • Looking a bit silly to those behind me…laughter is a good thing. Bonus.

While most trails aren’t at such a steep grade but for those that are, this will be an approach I will pull out of my trail running toolbox again.

If you ever play on some trails with dirt hugging steep sections of swear worthy goodness, the Chaplin technique may be worth a try. And causing others to smile never hurt either.

Talk Dirt Hugging Trail

What other approaches have you used to get through super steep sections of trail?

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

[Photo Credit: Insomnia Cured Here / ]

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

6 Responses to “Simple Movement Tweak to Reduce Effort and Increase Pace When Power-Hiking a Crazy Grade”

  1. on 05 Aug 2014 at 2:24 pm olga

    I just go sideways. Alpine skiing technique, taught to me on my first trail run, Escarpment 30k with 10k elevation change East Coast style.:)

  2. on 05 Aug 2014 at 2:56 pm David Hanenburg

    Olga – Nice. Do you rotate every so many strides (or minutes) as to which leg is leading?

    …and 10k of elevation in a 30k…sweet!

  3. on 06 Aug 2014 at 8:05 am olga

    I rotate only as I get tired, or depending on the slope, nothing specific, really.
    You should check out Escarpment race. Total bad a$$, made my addiction clear as a sunny day in Texas:)

  4. on 06 Aug 2014 at 1:39 pm andrew perez

    I lean forward and when my right leg is forward, I lean my upper right side of my torso into my right arm that has my right hand resting on the top of my bent right knee. I then push off my upper body thrusting my upper body up and forward and drive forward and up with that right leg. This takes some of your body weight off each step as you thrust your weight up and so your step isnt carrying as much weight. Repeat, left-right-left etc. It is a little awkard but it does work but it does call for upper body conditioning. I used it in my Spartan racing and it came in really handy on the course in Henderson Nevada for the Super; this had alot of dramatic up hill and the obstacles really wiped out your legs!

  5. on 21 Aug 2014 at 4:00 pm lori enlow

    hands on upper thighs pushing them down as I step short quick steps up on steepest climbs works for me. No exaggerated movements that expend energy, I think “effiecient” ….between curse words. I have also found that shuffling a laughable run is almost easier and def faster than hiking at some grades for me.

  6. on 02 Sep 2014 at 3:07 pm David Hanenburg

    Olga – Sounds like a great race!

    Andrew – Nice description. I use this style as well depending on the climb. Thanks for sharing!

    Lori – The thigh push-down is definitely useful and use it often. Next time I run that course, I may have to try that laughable shuffle. 🙂