Running Downhill: Techniques for Downhill Running with Speed

Written By: author image Kyle Cash
author image Kyle Cash
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.

This post was last updated on

Learn effective techniques for running downhill with speed. Improve your downhill running technique to enhance trail running performance. 

Ah, the rush of running downhill after conquering a steep climb.

It’s almost like flying, but with your feet kissing the ground. Yet, as freeing as it feels, downhill running has its own set of rules. It’s not just about letting gravity take the reins; it’s about mastering the technique to glide down safely and swiftly.

Without the proper form, those downhills can be a fast track to injuries.

So, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of downhill running, ensuring you’re armed with tips to make every descent a thrilling yet safe adventure.

Let’s dive into it.

Why is running downhills hard?

When you run uphill, your leg muscles lengthen and retract with each step.

Simple and predictable, right? 

But when the trails dip down, that’s when things switch up. Your leg contracts to brace the ground, flipping the script from your uphill stride.

The author running downhill in a forest

This muscle behavior is called eccentric contraction. Eccentrically contracted leg muscles can cause big problems, especially for your hamstrings, glutes, and back. They take the brunt, leading to a tad more muscle drama than usual.

If you’re unprepared, this downhill dash leaves your muscles with a case of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and your quads and knees reminiscing about the impact long after.

But hey, don’t worry. You can master downhill with no problem.

And, hey, it comes with some benefits as well.

Tips for going fast downhill

The best thing you can do to run faster downhill?

Run downhill!

But just simply following that advice leads to injury. So there are some things to keep in mind while you’re running downhill:

  1. Lean into it:
    Lean forward from the hips, not the waist. This helps you keep a center of gravity that keeps you stable and swift.
  2. Shorten your stride length:
    Short, quick steps are your friends when running downhill. They put less stress on your legs and can help keep control.
  3. Land on your mid-foot:
    Aim for a mid-foot landing rather than a heel strike. This helps absorb the shock and keeps you from leaning back, putting more stress on your knees.
  4. Use Your arms for balance:
    Spread those wings! Well, your arms, actually. Raise them as you run downhill to help you keep balance.
  5. Use your core:
    I compare it to a set of Jenga blocks. If your core is wobbly, you’re more likely to fall. So, engage your core to help keep you upright.
  6. Eyes on the prize:
    Keep your gaze about 10-15 feet ahead to anticipate the terrain, and adjust your stride accordingly. Looking at your feet will have you landing on your face.

How to start your downhill training

Running downhill isn’t just a ‘let gravity do its thing’ gig.

It requires some savvy training to nail good technique and keep your body happy. So, how do you start incorporating downhills in training?

First, the warm-up.

Before you start putting wear and tear on your body, get those muscles warm. A light jog or some dynamic stretches can do wonders. They get your blood pumping and prep your body for the downhill action.

My go-to is to do 5-7 dynamic stretches, and then I walk the first half kilometer of my run.

Now, onto the fun part: choosing your gradient.

Start with a gentle slope, and as you feel more comfortable, move to steeper descents. It’s all about baby steps. Your training ground should mimic your race day conditions (if you’re racing).

A man runs downhill during the Canyons Endurance Run in California

Also, start on less technical trails so you have time to practice running downhill with proper form and technique.

If you’re training for a race, begin with some downhill repeats.

Find a nice downhill stretch, then run down, jog back up, and repeat. Aim for about 4-6 repeats initially, then increase as you feel stronger.

Eventually, spice things up with mixed terrain runs.

Combine flats, uphills, and downhills in your runs. This mix not only makes your training more race-realistic but also makes you a well-rounded trail runner.

What are your tips for running downhill faster?

Downhill running is one of my favorites.

And when you learn how to do it, I think it can be yours, too.

So, if you’ve got any tips to help others, leave them in the comments below. And if you want to master the uphill as well, then check out my guide to uphill running.

author avatar
Kyle Cash Owner
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.