How to run downhill well is a popular topic for the runners I work with. There are some great areas of technique you can practice to avoid that “quad burn” on the fronts of your thighs, and reduce injury risk from the high impact. Here are some top tips to improve your down hill running;
1. Try not to slow yourself down too much, much of the muscle damage the high force of downhill running comes from using your legs as brakes to try and slow your descent speed. As much as it’s tempting to do this, try to let yourself speed up down a hill - or if it’s too steep run in diagonals down the hill so you are reducing the gradient. Just like riding a bike, balancing it easier as you go faster as momentum is on your side.
2. Look a little way down the hill/path not at your feet. This helps keeps the posture of your whole body upright and also allow your brain to see and plan ahead for the terrain and gradient so your body can adjust in time. You may be more tempted to look at the trail right in front of you if it’s rocky or more challenging but with practice you can trust that your body has seen the lumps, bumps and undulations and has factored those in - without you having to stare at them in detail!
3. It might feel weird to start with, but have a forward leaning posture down the hill. Gently leaning forwards with your whole body, not just with your shoulders and neck, will help keep the forces travelling down your legs lower and assist in keeping your balance.
4. Keep your arms out and moving around for balance. Using your arms as counter weights will help keep your body stable and your legs landing where you want them.
5. Try to engage your core and glute muscles (the muscles in your bum) to keep your body steady; your torso should be solid to allow your arms and legs to react to the terrain and balance you. You can think about the muscles you are bracing as you run; but strength training will help this too; lunges and planks are a great start.
6. Keep your normal run cadence/rhythm of your foot fall, don’t be tempted to lengthen your stride. If you lengthen your stride the force of each footfall increases, which impacts your leg muscles but also the ground under you; more force and the more likely a loose surface is to slip.
7. Land on the middle of your foot, not too far back on your heel or up on your toes. This links in really well with your footfall cadence, and is also a good way of checking that you are not taking long, slow strides. It also increases the amount of the sole of your shoe you have in contact with the ground on landing, again lowering the risk of slipping.
8. These last two points link up to my final tip; minimise your contact time with the ground by keeping your feet really light. Your feet aren’t trying to be a brake, they should be just tipping you onto the next foot fall and keeping up with your momentum down the hill.
If you are a visual learner then google video footage of the great Killian Jornet running down hills; white the masterclass!