Is Running Downhill Hard on Your Body?
Running downhill can be daunting to mind and body. While it is true that as you run downhill, your stabilizer muscles are challenged, it’s only hard on the body when done with improper form and lack of practice.
Temporary weakness and muscle soreness after downhill workouts indicate that your muscles are getting stronger. Prolonged muscle or joint pain associated with running downhill is a sign of improper downhill running form. With proper form and consistent practice, running downhill can become a runner’s secret weapon to slash time off a personal best.
Advantages of Running Downhill
There are many benefits from downhill training.
First, running downhill with proper form expends less energy than running on flat ground or inclines. This allows runners to conserve energy and to gain speed with little muscle input. Running downhill also allow runners to improve race times. They can make up for slower paces on the uphill and gain time on competitors. Psychologically, the downhill allows runners to regain confidence and composure from challenging climbs.
Focus on Form
Proper stride is essential to good form. When considering foot placement, your midfoot should hit the ground first. Heel striking causes excessive pressure on your shins leading to shin splints. Landing too far on the front of your foot over-exerts your calf muscles. Additionally, your steps should be light and springy.
One idea is to imagine there are hot coals underfoot. This helps runners avoid hard-striking the ground. On uneven terrain, this allows for more flexibility to move from one unstable foothold to another without injury.
Also, avoid overstriding. When you overstride, your knees absorb your weight with each impact. This is why we so often hear people say running can be hard on your knees. In reality, this prolonged stress on the knees is avoided with circular strides. Circular strides keep your feet under your body.
One useful tip:
If you’re landing far back on your heels while feeling a jolt with each impact, chances are you’re overstriding.
Furthermore, when considering turnover, increase your strides per minute while maintaining a consistent rate of descent.
Most people’s natural tendency on a downhill is to lean back to fight gravity. Resist that instinct! Instead, lean forward and center your torso over your knees. When you lean forward, do so with your hips, not with your shoulders.
Avoid pumping your arms as you would on flats or uphill running to avoid unnecessary and uncontrolled momentum. Instead, keep them loose and relaxed. Some of the world’s best downhill runners will even flap their arms out to the side for balance.
The importance of looking where you’re running may seem obvious for downhill safety, but it is also critical to keeping your balance. When running downhill, avoid looking at your feet. This may be the natural instinct, but looking 10-15 feet ahead decreases your likelihood of falling.
Defeating the Decline
Remember, running down any gradient on road or trail can damage the body if done with improper form. Applying and practicing the simple tips above will help change daunting descents into triumphs on the trail.
Looking for more Running Tips?
If you need running tips or are interested in getting out on an adventure with a professional, Grassroots Events offers running tours through Moab, UT. Learn more about the guided runs offered by our sister company Canyon Voyages today!