Downhill Running

Following my post on Up Hill Running Tips… I thought I’d write a bit about another kind of running:  Downhill running!

Me running down Ben Lomond 🙂

Running downhill can be tricky… there’s a fine line between holding yourself back, letting yourself go (and perhaps falling flat on your face!)

The key to comfortable, smooth downhill running is knowing how to relax both physically and mentally.  If you tense your muscles on the way down a hill, you could jar your legs more than necessary and wear yourself out more quickly.

Learning how to mentally relax while running downhill is really the more difficult aspect, because for many people, it is when they are running at their fastest speed.

The main focus is on lowering the impact to your legs and back so you can arrive at the bottom in much the same condition as you left the top.  For me, running downhill can be the most enjoyable part of a workout.  I let go, relax and surrender and let gravity take over and do most of the work for me.

To make sure I don’t over do it on downhills, I keep an eye on my heart rate monitor and make sure I’m not going too fast or working too hard.

Downhill running can be split into two categories:

Runnable and Non Runnable

Some hills are so gradual that you don’t have to put the brakes on.  These are runnable hills.  It’s a time to loosen your hips, stretch out your stride, and let gravity do the work.  On this type of hill you can learn how to soften your body, relax, and take it easy while running at speeds you normally dream of.

Then there are the steeper hills, where you spend most of your time slowing yourself down so things don’t get out of control.  I call these non runnable hills.

Runnable downhills

Here is a list of focuses which will help you to experience new levels of speed and looseness on those easy down hills.

  • Relax your mind and surrender to the speed, think Grasshopper.
  • Relax everything from the waist down, and pay special attention to relaxing your quads and calves.
  • Lean downhill and keep your upper body ahead of your foot strike.
  • Relax your lower back by letting your pelvis rotate from side to side.
    Each time your leg swings out the back, let your hip be pulled back with it.  This will help your pelvis learn to rotate. Your pelvic rotation will allow your stride to open up behind you as you run downhill.  With each stride, keep your foot on the ground as long as you can.  If you can hesitate for a split second before you pick up your foot, you’ll begin to feel your hip bones pulled back by your legs as your stride opens up behind you.
  • Do a vertical crunch.
    Many runners pull their shoulders back when running downhill.  This puts more curve onto your lower back, increases the pressure on your scrum, and throws your legs too far forward, which makes you land hard on your heels.  If you hold your body in a crunch position (pelvis tilted up in front, shoulders rounded, slightly forward), it will flatten your lower back and reduce the impact to you sacrum.

Non Runnable downhills

Here is a list of focuses that will make those steep downhills fun and relaxing:

  • When your car goes down a steep hill, you let up on the accelerator, right? So, if your lean is your accelerator pedal, then let it return to vertical on the steep hills.
  • Take smaller steps and focus on picking up your feet with each step instead of coming down on them with your whole weight.  This focus alone will significantly reduce the amount of perceived impact to your quads and feet.  If you want to run downhill faster, simply pick up your feet faster, and it won’t increase the impact to your legs.
  • Zig zag your way down the hill if there’s enough room.  This will allow your lateral muscles to absorb some of the impact.
  • Let your weight ride softly on your heels, and use the back of your legs for absorption.  Stay off your toes.
  • Relax your shoulders and keep them low.  If you need stability, hold your hands out away from your sides.
  • But don’t just relax your shoulders when you’re running down a steep hill.  The more you can relax your whole body, especially your legs, the softer the trip will be.
  • Open your stride up, relax and let gravity do most of the work for you!

Hopefully that will be helpful to anyone about to do any event with (uphills or) downhills in it! 🙂  Try it out the next time you run down a hill and see how much fun it can be!

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2 Responses to Downhill Running

  1. Pingback: How to run and enjoy it! | Lorn Pearson Trains…

  2. Pingback: So this is Christmas, and what have we done? | Lorn Pearson Trains…

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