Last updated on June 4th, 2023 at 04:44 pm

Running Downhill: Quick Training Tips for Crushing Descents

Conquer Downhill Running: Crush descents with expert tips. Master proper form & technique for trail running success. Level up for your next race!

We all know the feeling.

It’s late in a run, you’ve just finished running downhill for an eternity, and now your legs feel like they’ve got 20 pounds of lead in them.

It’s a common feeling among runners. And, believe it or not, you can get better at mastering downhill running. With some tips and training, you’ll learn to love the thrill of flying down a steep hill at breakneck speeds.

So, that’s why I made this post. I hope to give you some information and tips to help you on all your runs in the future.

Let’s dive into it.

Why is it hard to run downhill?

You’re familiar with the normal motion of your body. Muscles extending and contracting, what muscles are being used, etc.

For example, let’s think about when you’re trail running uphill.

You lift your leg, and your muscles extend. As you push off, the muscles shorten. Basic anatomy, right? 

But this isn’t how it works when you’re running downhill.

As you descend, your leg contracts to meet the ground when the impact happens. The opposite of running uphill.

The author running downhill in a forest

People far more intelligent than me call this eccentric muscle contraction or just eccentric contraction. These are hard on many muscles, especially your hip extensor muscles (glutes and hamstrings), and can cause increased muscle damage.

This is a lot of force on your muscles when unprepared, which leads to larger muscle tears.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and knee pain after a big day of downhills? This is the culprit.

But this doesn’t mean running downhill is all bad. There are definite benefits to it.

Let’s have a look at those.

So, what are the benefits of downhill running?

So, there’s excellent news about running downhill: the more you do it, the stronger you’ll get, reducing some adverse effects!

Many benefits come from downhill running, but let’s highlight a few:

  • Faster leg turnover equals faster on flat terrain
  • Better downhill running technique
  • Less soreness
  • Improved running economy

Downhill running is a critical piece of your running toolkit, especially if you’re running in half marathons or ultramarathons where hills add up.

Downhill trail running technique is an art. And everyone wants to learn how to run downhill fast, but it’s more important first to know how to run downhill correctly.

Should I strength train for downhill running?

The answer here is largely up to you. Can strength training help? Sure.

But you’re introducing another type of soreness and taking time away from running downhill in your training plans, which is already an excellent form of strength training.

You also want to be careful.

Is strength training good for downhill running?

Combining downhill running with strength training can lead to injury if you overdo it, so it’s best to keep it in check.

Various muscles and injuries are at play here, especially from the heel striking from running downhill.

So, if you decide to strengthen your running muscles, focus on muscles that promote the downhill running you’ll do.

What is the best technique to run downhill?

Trail runners look for quick solutions in their downhill running sessions. 

Better downhill training sessions, workouts, and races come through repeated practice and a focus on running downhill correctly.

So, here are some techniques to help you train for downhills:

Lean forward

It’s scary at first.

You’re already going downhill fast, and now you want to lean forward? How will that help you in keeping your body upright and out of the bushes?

But by leaning forward, you let the natural momentum of your body carry you down.

So, take advantage of gravity and let it do the work.

Lean forward to reduce stress on your legs

Leaning backward puts a lot of strain on our quads and knees, and this strain leads to injury.

When you fall forward, you move your center of gravity and allow your legs to flow more freely. This reduces heel striking and the next day soreness you’ll feel.

Engage your core

Your core is your foundation.

Imagine you’re a Jenga tower (strange analogy, but stay with me). As you take pieces from the center, the tower starts wobbling. Eventually, it can’t balance itself anymore, and it falls.

It’s the same way for you when running downhill.

You’ll lose balance and fall if your core and upper body move back and forth. You aren’t forming a stable structure.

So, keep your Jenga blocks in your core tight. With a tight core, everything follows, reducing your chance of falling.

Use your arms

Have you ever watched a runner going downhill, especially a trail runner?

Their arms are raised and waving around more than a wacky, waving, inflatable arm-flailing tube man.

Keep your arms up to help you running downhill

It looks silly.

But it’s critical to helping you keep your center of gravity where it needs to be.

Raise your arms as if you’re wading through water when running downhill. Adjust them as needed, and you’ll notice you feel much more balanced than before.

Land on your midfoot

As we mentioned above, most injuries come from a lot of heel striking as you run downhill.

But landing on your heel causes more damage as your muscle lengthens in your legs, and your foot lands with a lot of force. This sends a lot of force up your leg and into your knees and quads, which is much harder on the body.

So, instead, make sure you’re landing in the middle of your foot or forefoot.

It’s a difficult technique to master, but it helps provide a soft landing with each step. And that soft landing means you save your legs for another day.

Ready to tackle the downhills?

How to run fast downhill is no secret. It simply comes from working on your technique, then practicing repeatedly.

The same goes for how to run downhill trails, which can be more dangerous with all the obstacles they have.

Hopefully, these tips helped you, and you can use them daily. Consider getting a running coach to get more personalized feedback.

So, get out there and start running downhill.

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