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5 tips for running downhill

Running downhill is hard on the body. But with proper form, footwork and mindset it can be easy and even fun.

As runners we tend to focus on getting up hills. And I’ll admit, as a running coach, I often just emphasize the uphills or repeats. There is a lot of good information about hill training that is easily accessible, including a post I wrote earlier about how even flatlanders can get in good hill workouts.

Drills for running uphill are valuable to build our cardio systems and glutes. While running downhill can feel easier – not to mention faster — it can be more taxing on your body. That’s due to when going downhill, runners’ muscles are elongated with longer strides. Going uphill, we shorten our strides.

When I prescribe hill repeats for my runners, I want them to do recovery jogs or easy runs back down. This helps ward off injuries and brings the heart rate back down before the next hill repeat. That said there may be times on longer, more intense training runs when a hard effort is prescribed, meaning the athlete will attack both the uphills and downhills.

With that in mind, here are five tips to remember when incorporating downhill runs into your training.

1. Lean into it. This is especially true for steep downhills. But even for more forgiving hills, runners should focus on a slight lean forward even though it is tempting to lean back to control your speed. However that stresses knees and ankles, which could lead to injury. Aim to keep your shoulders in line with your knees.

2. Lengthen your stride. After reducing your stride going up, lengthen it as you descend. This will increase your speed while not putting as much force on your joints. One caveat: if you are on a technical trail, or any trail, use your best judgment as to the proper stride length as you navigate through rocks, tree roots and other obstacles.

3. Quicken your cadence. This will help you land more softly, again reducing the chance of injury. We’re looking for quick strides to get you down the hill safely, so you can charge back up the hill once again. 4. Don’t forget your arms. As your speed increases down the hill, don’t neglect to use your arms for balance. After all, as you are leaning forward – you are leaning forward, right? — you will need to summon your wings for balance as you fly down the hill. Hold your arms a little lower than normal and swing them in rhythm with your feet. On trails, you will probably want to extend them just in case you end up falling. 5. Just relax. Running downhill with proper form and technique takes time, just like other forms of running. Don’t overthink it. In time, with practice, it will come naturally. If you are new to these concepts, for now, integrate what you can into your downhill running. Soon enough you’ll hit all of these key areas and be well on your way to conquering hills, both the ascents and the descents.


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