Improve your trail running with these tips for running downhill. When most people look at a course’s elevation they tend to focus on the total amount of gain (or vert), then train accordingly. Putting in a lot of uphill work on the treadmill and stairmill. What many fail to realize is that while the downhill sections present the best chance to make up time, the downhill is also the part of the race that tears your body up the most. Because of this it’s important to focus on your downhill running technique and form.
Key Takeaways for Improving Downhill Trail Running:
- Let gravity work for you by keeping your hips forward and eyes down the hill.
- Maintain quick feet to minimize ground contact time and use a circular motion.
- Avoid heel striking to prevent joint pain; aim for a forefoot or midfoot strike.
- Use your arms for stabilization and balance during the descent.
- Keep a stiff core to reduce excess body movement and the risk of injury.
Technique & Form Tips for Running Downhill
Let Gravity Do the Work
Rather than leaning back and focusing on your head and shoulders, keep your hips leaned forward. Your gaze should be directed down the hill, not at your feet. This doesn’t mean you should neglect where you’re stepping, but aim to keep your feet in your lower peripheral vision. By trusting in gravity and maintaining good visibility, you can navigate downhill terrains more confidently.
Run With Quick Feet
Imagine you’re sprinting across hot coals and aim to minimize the time your feet spend on the ground. When going downhill, you need less knee drive to maintain momentum. Adjust your stride by shortening it and introducing a slight circular motion while increasing your cadence. This technique will help you keep up the pace and reduce the impact on your joints.
Keep Off Your Heels
Resist the urge to slam on the brakes by leaning back and landing with a heel strike. Such a landing can cause joint pain during downhill running. Instead, focus on maintaining a proper forefoot or midfoot strike. This will not only facilitate quick feet but also lessen the strain on your knees and hips.
Use Your Arms for Stabilization & Balance
As gravity works in your favor, your arms can serve as key stabilizers and balance aids. Many top skyrunners use their arms to help navigate steep descents effectively. Keep them slightly extended to the sides, which can help counterbalance your movement and keep you on course.
Keep a Stiff Core
Running downhill subjects your entire body to increased impact. To handle this, maintain a tight core throughout your descent. A loose core can lead to unnecessary body movements, increasing the risk of injury and wasting energy. A stable core ensures that your body remains aligned and better prepared to absorb the shocks of the downhill terrain.
Maintain Flexibility in Your Ankles
Adequate ankle flexibility is vital for adapting to the varied terrain you’ll encounter when running downhill. Ensure your ankles have a good range of motion, as this will help you adjust to sudden changes in slope, minimize the risk of rolling your ankle, and maintain balance.
Choose the Right Footwear
Opt for running shoes with appropriate grip and support for downhill terrain. Look for models with aggressive outsoles and adequate cushioning to absorb the impact. Choosing the right footwear can greatly enhance your stability and comfort during the descent.
Practice Controlled Breathing
Downhill running can be demanding on your cardiovascular system. Focus on controlled, rhythmic breathing to supply your muscles with ample oxygen. Coordinate your breath with your strides, exhaling forcefully upon foot strikes to maintain a steady flow of oxygen.
Learn to “Float” Over Obstacles
Instead of trying to leap over rocks or roots, aim to “float” over them. Maintain a light, nimble stride that allows you to effortlessly clear obstacles without breaking your momentum. This technique saves energy and reduces the risk of tripping.
Visualize the Ideal Line
Before you start your descent, take a moment to visualize the ideal line you want to follow. This mental preparation can help you anticipate obstacles, select the best path, and execute a smoother, faster descent.
Mastering downhill trail running is essential for improving your performance. By letting gravity assist you, maintaining quick footwork, avoiding heel striking, using your arms for balance, and keeping a strong core, you’ll not only enhance your speed but also minimize the risk of injury. Don’t underestimate the importance of downhill running technique in your trail races – it can make a significant difference in your overall performance and enjoyment of the sport.