For me, downhill running is one of the most fun parts of trail running. But, if you find you’re a little nervous heading downhill on the trail (running or not!) I have 6 tips for you to make downhill running easier, safer, and more fun!
Tip 1: Take More Steps
It can feel tempting to take long, slow steps when running downhill. But, if you want to be less sore and reduce the likelihood of rolling an ankle, then you want to take more steps on your downhill.
I usually do a fast feet drill on the way down, where I’m taking a high number of steps when I’m going downhill, and that makes this feel more natural on the way down.
Tip 2: Reduce Your Ground Contact Time when downhill running
Do you remember playing the “floor is lava” game when you were a kid? Well, we’re bringing that game back on the downhill.
When you’re running downhill, you just want to touch the ground, not stay with your foot for a longer period of time. Quick steps mean less eccentric contractions mean less sore muscles the next day and are a safer way down.
Tip 3: Land With your Foot Underneath Your Centre of Mass (COM)
If you land with your foot in front of you, you’re going to be at the end of your range of motion through your ankle and knee, meaning you have less wiggle room if you need to adapt to the ground underneath you.
For example, if there’s a rock that makes your ankle move out slightly or there’s a change in pitch that causes you to go at a steeper angle than before, you want to have the greatest range of motion in your ankle, knee, and hip to be able to react to that situation. If you have these three major joints underneath your centre of mass, now you can adapt to these trail changes.
Tip 4: Tighten Your Core and Think of Your Legs As Wheels
Think of your core and your torso as your base and your legs as your wheels. I find that this tip really helps with the first two tips, taking lots of quick steps.
This will help tighten your pelvic floor and your core slightly so that no matter what rocks, roots, and changes in pitch you’re dealing with, you feel like you’re totally in control of the situation.
When you have a powerful or solid base through your core, then you have more range of motion and more reactivity available through your hip, knee, and ankle.
Tip 5: Change Hip Position For Steeper downhill Pitches
Depending on how steep the hill is you’re running down, you’re going to want to change your technique slightly.
Steep Hill: If you’re running down a super steep hill, then you’re actually going to want to sit your weight back a little bit, bending at the hip with more weight through the heels and a slight bend through the knee at all times.
Slight Pitch: If you’re running a well-established trail downhill or just a slight pitch, then you don’t need to bend the waist. In fact, that’s leaking power if you do that. Instead, you want to think in a straight line (between your hips and feet) and land with those feet underneath you.
Tip 6: Lateral Steps to Reduce Speed and Soreness
Instead of trying to go straight down the trail line, you want to go slightly lateral with your steps.
Moving laterally will cause you to use different muscles and you’re going to be moving your centre of mass back and forth, which will effectively slow you down without as much effort and energy as if you were trying to slow down while going directly down the fall line.
If you ski, it’s like when you turn to slow down.
BONUS TIP for downhill running!
Notice when you’re getting tired.
If your steps start to sound really loud and flat or your lower back is pitching forward, then that might be a sign to take a rest and then redo the steps above.
Remember, practice makes perfect! Don’t be afraid to ask a friend how you look or to take a video and watch how you run and try and play around with some different techniques. Running is simple, but there are tiny tweaks we can make that have a huge difference on how everything feels. And that certainly is true when it comes to running downhill!
If you’re wanting to get into Trail Running shape, check out our WILDR Trail Running Ready 8 Week Online Program: https://www.wildr.ca/product/trail-running-ready-8-week-dumbbell-program/