Running Downhill: A Quick Guide to Crushing Descents

Is there anything worse than lead legs from running downhill? 

You know the feeling. You just finished running down a huge hill, and it’s near the end of your run. You’re ready to push it to the finish. 

But, you make a call to your legs, and they’ve gone home for the day. Why can you just be like Kilian Jornet?

It’s never a fun feeling, but it can be rewarding.

This post will help reduce that and hopefully make you a better downhill runner with these running downhill tips.

First, let’s dive into why running (and trail running) downhill is hard.

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 up, 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.

Running downhill can hurt your body if you don't do it properly

People way smarter than I call this ‘eccentric contractions’ or ‘eccentric loading’. These are hard on many muscles, but especially your hip extensor muscles (glutes and hamstrings).

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

Muscle soreness 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 downhill running’s benefits?

So, there’s great news about running downhill. The more you do it, the stronger you’ll get, reducing some negative effects!

There are actually many benefits that come from downhill running, but let’s highlight a few:

Downhill running is a critical piece of your running toolkit. Especially if you’re running in half marathons, 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 to first learn how to run downhill properly.

Should I do strength training 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 with the amount of heel striking from running downhill.

So, if you do strength train, focus on muscles that promote the downhill running you’ll do.

What is the best way to run downhill?

Trail runners look for quick solutions, the “Art of Running Downhill.” But, the truth is, most of it comes through practice.

Better downhill training sessions, workouts, and races come through repeated practice.

So, first, let’s focus on how to run downhill correctly. Here are some tips for your running downhill technique/downhill running form.

How to run faster downhill? Lean forward

It’s scary at first. You’re already going downhill fast, and now you’re supposed to lean forward?

Yes, do exactly that.

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 lean 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.

Want better trail running technique downhill? Engage your core

Your core is your foundation.

Imagine you’re a game of Jenga (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.

Losing your center of gravity? Use your arms

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

Their arms are raised up 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 key to helping you keep your center of gravity where it needs to be.

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

Trying to avoid injury on technical trails? Reduce contact time

Your feet slam hard when you go downhill. There’s a lot of force in that slam, too.

And where does that force go? Straight up your leg. Through your calf muscles, quads and more.

So, take shorter, lighter steps. This reduces your contact time and how much force you’re placing on each step.

Plus, if the terrain starts getting shaky, you can quickly adjust. 

Quick, short strides for a safe bet on the downhills.

Conclusion

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

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 in your daily running. You could also consider getting a running coach to get more personalized feedback.

So, get out there and start running downhill.