Text how to run downhill with confidence Image two runners running downhill on a sandy path.

How to run downhill with confidence

Text how to run downhill with confidence Image two runners running downhill on a sandy path.

When running downhill do you run with confidence and ease or are you more wary and cautious?

If it’s the latter then here are my tips on how to build your confidence when running downhill.

It’s in the technique

Like a lot of running there is a technique to running downhill.

For many people downhill running is nerve racking. If you go too fast you can feel out of control, which feels very scary. So you tend to put the breaks on.

Which means you lean back, use your landing foot to break, and slow down. But that can actually lead to injury and lost time in any race.

Rather than leaning back and breaking, you need to stay upright or lean slightly forward, just not so much it turns into a downhill roly poly!

Keep those hips high as you run, don’t lean forward from the waist or hips. You want that core to be active.

And finally, you want to be controlled. Use your arms for balance. It’s okay to have them spread out like an airplane if needed!

You need to practice

If you do have a hilly race coming up then don’t forget to practice downhill running. This will really help your confidence in running downhill, and help you to practice your technique.

One way we can do this is with downhill repeats. Similar to uphill repeats but rather than running up, you run down.

Start with a shorter, not so steep hill at first. And only do a few repeats at a time. Do too many and your quads are really going to pay for it the next day!

And if you have a hilly race coming up, make sure you understand the route. Whilst it can be fun to go all out downhill, you don’t want to spend all your energy running fast downhill if you still have plenty of uphill to climb.

Build specific downhill running strength

If you have ever run a hilly race or route and experienced sore, tired legs afterwards you may think it was to do with all those hills you ran up. But actually, it’s more than likely to have been caused by the hills you ran down.

Running downhill creates more stress on the quads through eccentric movement of the muscle. The muscle experiences more load and force as it is lengthened, putting more stress on the muscle. This is what causes the DOMS or muscle soreness you experience a day or two later.

To help alleviate some of this soreness, and help build your confidence running downhill, you need to get your muscles more used to this eccentric movement.

Train the eccentric movement

As it’s the eccentric movement that causes the muscle soreness, this is what we need to focus on when it comes to strength training for running downhill.

Two great exercises that work on the quads in this eccentric phase are eccentric squats and reverse Nordic curls.

For the squats, you need to go slower on the downward phase of the squat, and quicker up. Try going down for the count of 4 and up for 1.

Reverse Nordic Curls are another great exercise for the quads but you really don’t need to do many to get the benefit.

Start off with one set of 3 to 5 and don’t do these the day before any planned hard runs!

Train the supporting muscles for downhill running

But it’s not all about the quads.

When you are running downhill you also need strong adductor muscles.

These are the inner thigh muscles. They help bring the leg back to the midline of the body and help with stability when running. Often this stability is challenged when running down hill, especially if you are off road or on an uneven surface.

So, building adductor strength can really help you to be more efficient when running downhill. Exercises such as lateral lunges, Pilates ball bridge, side lying leg lifts will all help.

But as well as strength, it’s also important to be flexible so you don’t overstretch yourself. A butterfly stretch, where you sit down with the soles of your feet together, is a nice one to do for the adductors.

What about your balance and core strength?

Two areas that are hugely important for all runners, whether you are stick to the flat or regularly run the hills are balance and core strength.

Both will help keep you upright, which is essential if you are running downhill!

A simple way to work on your balance is just by standing on one leg for 30 seconds. And once you can balance for 30 seconds, close your eyes to make it more challenging.

And try to incorporate any single leg exercises into your workouts, such as single leg squats and deadlifts.

One of my favourite ways to work both balance and core strength is with a single leg halo
Balance on one leg with your hands overhead and make small circles or “halos”. You can progress this by adding a small weight such as a medicine ball.

And one core exercise that I recommend to all runners is a dead bug. As well as being a good core exercise you use your arms and legs in a similar, co-ordinated way to running.

With these tips I hope you will be more confident when running downhill.

And if you want to know how my coaching can help you build strength for your next hilly race, then do get in touch to see how I can help.

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