Whenever a runner has a hilly race to run, the focus is on the uphill. After all, that’s the hard part, right? Running uphill makes your heart pound, your lungs burn, and your legs scream. So you prepare for such a challenging event by uphill training, getting stronger and more adept at running up those hills. And the result is a more successful race.
Quite often, though, after finishing that hilly race, after killing those hills, you’ll find that your body aches, and may even have some slight injury, not due to the uphills, but because of all the downhill running.
Running downhill is a lot more difficult that it might seem at first glance. It’s easy right, after the physical and cardiovascular challenge of running uphill? It should be a breeze! But running downhill causes muscles to lengthen or make eccentric contractions, which can cause microscopic tears and generate more force than when running uphill or on flat surfaces. And running at top speed, which is easier on the downhills, causes your feet to hit the ground harder, which in turn causes the muscles, bones, and joints to endure more pounding.
What can a runner do to prevent or minimize these negative effects? Simple. Just add some downhill running to your training plan.
4 Benefits of Running Downhill
- Running downhill will train your body to…run downhill.
- Running downhill can improve leg turnover.
- Running downhill can improve speed.
- Running downhill will cause the microtears mentioned above in training, which will repair themselves stronger than before and prepare your body to handle the downhills during race situations.
While running downhill can be incorporated into your training at all times, it is especially important if you are planning a hilly race, or one which has extended downhill sections.
Tips for Running Downhill
- When you first get started, run on softer surfaces such as grass or trails. You can move to the road after a few training sessions.
- Don’t practice on too steep of a hill. Look for a hill that has no more than an 8% drop (and start out even less than that, about 3-4%). Anything steeper can cause excessive impact and increase the risk of injury.
- Focus on your form. Don’t overstride. Instead, shorten your stride and increase your cadence, focusing on your turnover.
- Land mid-foot. Resist the urge to either lean back or slow down. You will have a slight forward lean from the ankles, but keep your core engaged and your posture aligned.
- Once or twice a week is fine, but make sure to recover fully between each downhill session.
- You can incorporate your downhill training with your uphill running or do it as a separate workout. Make sure that you can maintain proper form for both types of training.
- Downhill running can be formatted as a hilly tempo run or broken into repeats. Here are three hill workouts that you can use if you choose to combine the two types of workouts (the first two would be perfect to incorporate downhill running).
- Reduce or eliminate your downhill training the last two to three weeks before your goal race. As with any type of intense training, your body needs time to rest and recover.
Do you train for the downhills?
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