How to Effectively (and Safely) Run Downhill

Downhill running builds strength and endurance in a way that flat running cannot duplicate. While running uphill might feel more difficult from a cardio perspective, running downhill challenges and pushes your body in different ways. The muscles you build running on the decline translate into faster paces on other terrain. Downhill running involves control and braking, which creates muscular stress. Including downhill running in your training and learning proper downhill running techniques will help you improve your leg speed, increase efficiency and prevent injury. With proper form, you can turn downhill running into a strength that will greatly benefit your other running.

Understanding and Choosing Hills

Make sure to choose your hills wisely when training. The following tips will help you:

  • Start with short, gradual slopes and move on to steeper and longer descents as you develop your technique and improve your strength and ability. Practice downhill running through either focused repeats or an extended run on a hilly route. Extreme grades increase your risk of knee, ankle and hip injuries.
  • Use a GPS watch to find a gradual slope of no more than 8 percent to train on. When running downhill, gravity is your friend.
  • Running on softer surfaces, such as dirt or grass instead of pavement or cements, lead to fewer injuries because they are more forgiving.
  • Always look ahead for hill variations and adapt to them immediately to avoid injury.

Building a Strong Foundation – Correct Form

The foundation of running downhill safely and efficiently relies upon maintaining correct posture. Avoid the urge to lean back into the hill and focus instead on keeping your body perpendicular to the ground. Descend the hill with your feet turned sideways to help with speed control. As you improve, point your feet more progressively downhill. Engage your core and lean forward slightly from the ankles. Keep the feet under the body and don’t over stride, which gives the body greater control over the legs and also minimizes the impact on the quadriceps and knees. Use your arms for balance. Flailing your arms around can actually give your body the control it needs when speed takes over. As you descend, shorten your stride and quicken your cadence to help avoid using your heel as a brake. A slight bend in your landing leg will help avoid impact to your knee. You can run a lot faster than you think while still maintaining control.

Training Safely

As with any new training type, start small. Begin with one downhill session every other week, eventually working up to two per week. Learn how to tackle hills mentally and physically. Confidence is crucial to successful downhill running. Run down hills using effort, not pace. Focus on the descent, not the climb. When done properly, downhill running provides enjoyment and a great way to make up time. Consider purchasing a quality treadmill that will set an effective downhill pace for training. Many models come equipped with declines up to 6 percent.

You can improve your overall fitness with downhill running. By following these tips, you will enjoy the process as well.