How to run downhill without hurting our quadriceps and calves? As trail runners, running so much elevation also includes a lot of downhill running. Whether we are running downhill on the trail or on the road there are some key training techniques to help run down faster, avoid too much impact on the knees and overuse the quadriceps and calve muscles.
1. Downhill Trail Running Techniques
Fast Foot and Leg Turnover: One thing that makes a huge difference between a strong descent from a weak one on the trail is the cadence. To run downhill fast, with a controlled motion requires to run light on your feet with a quick leg turnover. To run downhill with an extended leg stride will make it an unbalanced motion, heavy impact that will wear out the legs and quads. With a quick stride, the contact with the ground is short and light. With a quick cadence, the next foot is there quickly to bring back the balance. At first it might feel unnatural, that’s why downhill training is an important part of a training plan.
Have a Natural Forward Lean: Leaning back when running downhill puts more strain on the legs and quads, the body is stiffer and uses the heels as brakes, which again creates more impact on the legs. Running downhill with a more natural form, we can let gravity do all the work. Leaning forward naturally, will put the body in line with the hill and make the motion more stable. Leaning forward is not bending at the waist, but from the ankles. By leaning forward, we are able to lift the legs up instead of in front of the body which creates some imbalance.
Look Forward Not Straight Down: Running downhill on the trail, even technical terrains we should keep our eyesight 1.5-2m ahead. Our brain does very well at recording instantly and addressing the rocks and technical terrain ahead.
Upper Body Strength for Balance: Using our core and upper body to stabilize and balance our fast-downhill pace is important. We have to make sure that we engage our core, keep the shoulders and neck relaxed. We have to let our arms flow in the air to maintain a proper body-balance.
2. Downhill Road Running Techniques
Road running downhill techniques are very similar to trail running but with a few differences.
Fast Cadence: Again, increasing the steps and cadence will reduce the impact of each stride on the quads, and calves. The best way to figure out the ideal cadence is to test different speed on the downhill and aim to settle into a cadence and stride that will feel less impact and not feel as you are braking with each foot strike.
Vary the Foot Strike: A good downhill landing technique is to vary your foot strike so that you don’t land in the same position, using the same muscle groups every stride. The impact will be shared by different muscle groups. This technique is natural on the technical trail.
Train on the Downhill: By including training sessions on the downhill road, the quadriceps and calve muscles get much stronger. The quads get micro tears which triggers healing and strengthening of the muscles. At the beginning of downhill training, the muscles will feel a bit sore, but to train downhill will avoid injuries, same as uphill training.
We should use the downhill running as a fast, recovery and sense of freedom. Think of it as flying down, loose, free and light running!
Train Hard, Eat Right, and Feel Great!