Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Do you know how to run downhill?

For some reason, I can run uphill or into the wind faster than I can run on flat land or downhill.  It seems weird to me, but the results are consistent.  I do work on running up hills and it has been really helpful during races.  When a hill comes up, I accelerate and charge up the hill, focusing on my form.  Once I reach the top, I can recover within 15-20 seconds and keep going on my usual pace.  Going downhill always slows me down though.

According to Competitor’s article Perfect your Downhill Running Form, “Although running uphill may feel more difficult from a cardio perspective, going downhill well is challenging – and a lot harder on your body.” 

To truly understand why it is harder you have to understand how your muscles work.  Your muscles contract in two ways:

Concentrically – Your muscles shorten.  This happens when you pick something up. 

Eccentrically – Your muscles lengthen while contracting. This happens when you put something back down.

When you run downhill, your muscles are doing a lot more eccentric contracting, which is much harder on your body, using more energy and taking more of a toll on your muscles.  While it is more difficult to run downhill, if you master the proper form, you can reduce the stress that you put on your legs and increase your pace.  Here are a few tips for going faster downhill.  

Lean forward from the hips, not from your shoulders.  You want to let gravity naturally pull you downhill.  This might feel unnatural at first, but you want to fight the urge to lean back.  You want to lean forward just slightly, keeping your body perpendicular to the ground.  If you lean too far forward, you might fall flat on your face though.

Use your arms for balance. When you run downhill, you don’t need to use your arm swing for momentum like you would going up hills.  The article recommends that you have your arms out to your sides (like you are trying to fly like a bird).  While it may look weird, it will help with your balance and give your body the added control that it might need.

Stabilize your core.  You want to tighten your glutes, abs, and back.  This will create a stable base and provide better balance.  You should actually be doing this all of the time.  I was told to stand tall and have a proud chest.

Don’t overstride! You are not focused on creating power when running downhill.  Let gravity do the work.  Have more of a circular stride.  

Look where you are going.  You don’t want to look at your feet, just focus your gaze down the hill.  If you are looking at your feet, it will cause certain muscles to engage and others to disengage.  Your glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles will not be able to focus on balance as well.  That and you might run smack dab into a post at the bottom of the hill. 

You want to have a quick foot turnover.  You want to your feet to have as little contact time with the ground as possible.  Think of it as putting on the brakes with each stride.  The faster your stride, the less you put on the brakes.  Shortening your stride will also put less stress on your joints.  You should always have a faster stride (around 180 steps per minute) because it is a more efficient way to run.  

Your feet should be parallel to the ground at the time of ground contact.  If you land on your heels, it will put undue stress on your shins, leading to shin splints.  Landing on your toes can lead to added stress on your knees and calves.  

Getting your downhill running form up to par is not easy, but practicing this on a regular basis will more than pay for itself when race time comes around.  The two areas where people struggle the most are running up and down hills.  If you practice your hill work you will notice the difference.  It is where I can really tell that my training is working.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Information taken from Competitor.com

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