DOWNHILL RUNNING SERIES: HOW TO BECOME A MORE EFFICIENT DOWNHILL RUNNER
~ By Annie Bothma, February 2023
Now that you understand why you may feel a bit more sore after a significant amount of downhill running and you are aware of the risks and rewards that comes with running downhill, it is time to discuss how you can become a more efficient downhill runner!
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN EFFICIENT DOWNHILL RUNNER
“Efficiency” is a word that is getting passed around a lot in marathon running. I think that efficiency is a really important part of distance running. Basically, the more efficient you move the less energy you will waste on unnecessary movements, meaning more energy can be used for running faster and further!
If you can run quickly downhill just utilizing your fascia and elasticity, then you are not burning any fuel and you are using minimal energy. You’re moving quickly, but actually saving yourself for the bits where you need to dig in and work really hard later on in the race or run.
BECOMING AN EFFICIENT DOWNHILL RUNNER
KEEP YOUR STRIDES LONG
A common mistake runners make when running downhill is to shorten their stride. Longer strides equal faster downhill running. It may feel scary at first moving that fast - it does take some time and a degree of bravery to improve your downhill running, but the end benefits are worth it!
LEAN INTO IT
Lean slightly forward and allow gravity to do some of the work. Avoid leaning backwards and jamming on the brakes, since this may cause damage to your muscles and leave you even more sore the next day. Assisted by gravity, our body tends to fall forward during the downhill. So it is natural that we want to lean back to move the center of mass slightly behind. However, by doing so we create braking action, which then reduces the pace. Unlike flat running, a slight bend from the hip, and lean forward can help to keep the center of mass lower and gives a better ability to take the shock without braking forces.
LET THE RIGHT MUSCLE TAKE THE POUNDING
Think about which muscles you want to absorb the most impact. You don't want all the impact to come down onto your knees, instead you want to let those quads do a bit of the work. Make sure you maintain a strong core and engage your glutes!
KEEP YOUR LEGS BENT
You don't want to look like a stickman when you are running downhill. Avoid running with straight legs, since this will only could this result in knee pain or injury. Instead, you want to try run with slightly bent legs. This will give you more spring in your step! Remember, to keep your core engaged.
Try landing on the mid-foot helps the absorb shock better, reducing the stress on knee and ankle joints. Landing on your toes may throw you off balance, while heel striking will make you lean backwards and slow you down.
DON'T WORRY ABOUT YOUR CADENCE TOO MUCH
This is one place where you should not worry about your cadence. A faster cadence is natural on a downhill, since it gives you better control. Increased cadence also aids proprioception, improving your feedback from the impact and the terrain, as well aid in greater spatial awareness.
PICK THE BEST LINE
When you approach a downhill, scan ahead of time and pick the best line to run. This becomes especially important if you are running off-road on trials. Rather than looking directly at the terrain under your feet, look slightly ahead at what’s coming in two strides’ ahead. This way you can still maintain your speed and make it safely to the bottom of the hill.
Don't forget about your arms, they play a key role if you want to run downhill faster. For balance, especially around corners, spread your arms out to the side using a slight windmilling action. It looks a little weird, but by keeping your arms higher and wider than normal will allow you to move fast without losing your balance. But, avoid wasting energy by swinging your arms too much.
Try some of these form tips the next time you are running down a hill and see if you are able to move faster and more efficiently. Remember, the key is to not waste unnecessary energy. Just stay focused on your form, try to relax and enjoy the ride!
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