“How do I get better at running downhill?”
This is the question I get asked more than any other by trail and fell runners seeking to improve their running technique.
“I overtake people on the uphill only to have them fly past me again on the downhill”, “I feel out of control”, “I’m scared I’m going to fall”. Do any of those statements sound familiar? You’re certainly not alone if you feel that your descending skills are something that need to be worked on in order to make you a better fell or trail runner. So what can you do in order to improve?
Some people will tell you that it’s simply a matter of disengaging the brain and letting go. Unfortunately it isn’t quite as simple as that; if you haven’t got the core or leg strength to cope with the added impact forces or don’t have the neuromuscular development that allows rapid reactions and quick movements, then no amount of bravado is going to get you to the bottom of a steep, technical descent still upright and in one piece!
So is there any way of improving your descending skills? Just like getting faster on the flat or stronger on the uphills, descending at pace and in control is something that needs to be trained. And like most aspects of running, whilst a few people seem naturally gifted, the majority get better by hard work and regular practice. Lots of runners make the mistake of only trying to run fast descents in races, to make improvements you should work on it in training too. Developing an efficient technique is important so try to focus on the following:
Downhill Running Tips:
- Don’t lean back. Whilst it feels safer to lean back and land heel first this is inefficient. Try to keep an upright posture or even a slight forward lean.
- Fast, short strides – particularly on steep, technical ground. If the angle decreases or the ground gets less technical then you can open your stride.
- Midfoot landing. This gives more stud to ground contact and prevents you overstriding.
- Relaxed upper body. Let the arms go! They act as a counterbalance.
- Practise on a variety of terrain. Start on a gentle, smooth slope and work up to steeper, more technical terrain as your technique and confidence improves.
There are also other types of training that you can do to supplement the downhill run training. Doing drills such as fast feet or ladder exercises will help develop your balance and coordination and activate those fast twitch muscles needed for a rapid stride rate. Good descenders rely on a strong core so work on this too. Exercises such as planks, bridges, and lunges will all help, it’s not just about running.
The key to improvement is practice; you didn’t learn to ride a bike in one go and likewise it takes time to develop the various skills to improve your downhill running. Try to incorporate downhill training into your regular runs. This video shows how you might practise running down a short, steep hill:
So, work on your technique and you never know, it might be you flying down past others as they tentatively make their way downhill.