For most runners, running downhill is a skill that we never practice and it is no wonder that in a race where we are forced to run downhill fast that we end up with burning quadriceps, sore knees and losing a whole load of time.
However if you take time to master this skill, the downhills are a place you can gain an enormous advantage over your competitors because the chances are that they won’t be practising these skills.
Downhill running will make an enormous difference to your strength and speed on the flat as well. You should add it to your program once a week and implement hill repeats and specific drills.
The first piece of advice is to make a huge effort to relax the legs. Think of being an elastic band. Try very hard to be conscious of relaxing especially the quads and the calves. Try to lean slightly downhill and keep your upper body ahead of the foot strike. Relax your lower back and pelvis. Think about floating down the hill letting gravity do all the work for you. If you have stiff legs, you will be using unnecessary energy. The faster you run the more relaxed you will need to be.
Try to think of running downhill as a “controlled fall”
Don’t lean back. Leaning backward slows your speed and increase impact forces through the hips, knees and ankles, increasing stress on the body.
Downhill running places an enormous amount of stress on the joints. So do increase the loads very gradually and do not increase time, distance or intensity until you no longer have post session soreness. Downhill running is eccentric loading of the muscles which is the biggest contributor to delayed onset muscle soreness. Start incorporating a few hills into your general runs and get used to it. If you experience any ongoing soreness or injury please contact a sports physiotherapist before continuing.
Then once your body is familiar with downhill running, start adding downhill repeats to your programme. This is a specific skill which needs to be learnt then practised.
Try running downhills fast, then slowly come back up hill (as your recovery!). Find a hill that takes you 2-3mins to run down and do something like 5-8 repeats depending on your fitness. Run fast- this is a training session! Watch the ground 2-3 feet in front of you. Running downhill fast requires a huge amount of muscular co ordination and you will notice a huge increase in your flat running speeds as well.
Progress this session by combining up hill and downhill running. Find a hilly area with a good hill that takes you 3-5 minutes to ascend. Then do multiple repeats. as fast as you can with a short recovery like 20 seconds.
Remember to focus on relaxation, good posture and not braking with your heel.