Practice running downhills to get the edge – MSC Head Coach Nick Croft
You would think that downhill running comes naturally but running downhill efficiently and repetitively is not as easy as it sounds. Good downhill runners (like uphill runners) seemingly do it effortlessly but as is the case with most disciplines, it takes practice and a gradual approach.
Because your body absorbs more impact with each foot strike down a hill, you can get injured quite quickly if you are not conditioned for it. It’s easy to over stride when running downhill, which makes you land harder, tires you out sooner, and makes you more at risk to getting an injury. For downhill technique it is better to shorten your stride and focus on quicker foot turnover. As in general good run form you want to aim to keep your shoulders, hips, and feet aligned and the feeling is like controlled falling so you’re over your centre of gravity and this gives you forward momentum and better foot placement.
Although it’s tempting to take huge steps to reduce the pounding on your legs, over striding downhills pound your quads even more and put more stress on your ankle and hips too. Aim to keep feet lower to the ground and try to stay light on your feet and get those feet off the ground as quickly as you can. Don’t lean back and try to put the brakes on yourself. Allow the gravity to pull you as you go down the hill.
When running downhill, you don’t need the arm movement for power like you do on flats and up hills. So for more stability try positioning your arms out to the side for better balance. It can help give your body the control on steeper or technical sections if some turning is involved. Like when you descend on the bike, aim to look ahead of yourself – further down the hill, not down where your feet are.
Add downhill running to your training gradually. Start with a short, gradual slope, and move on to steeper and longer descents as you get more accustomed. Off road trails for down hills or grassy slopes are better to start with then progress to harder surfaces. Repeated downhill runs are hard sessions so need to be treated like one so a few days of easy running or swim / bike will allow the legs to absorb the stress. Like anything, it is a gradual adaption over time, so don’t expect the results to flow until you do this consistently initially over 4-6 weeks.
Keep in mind to do no serious down hills leading up to important events. Give yourself seven to ten days even up to two weeks out of no intensive / repetitive down hills.