I use to hate downhills. They would hurt my knees, bang up my quads and I would get passed by so many runners on them. But after learning how to run them correctly, I now love downhills. They don’t beat up my body at all anymore and downhills are now one of my specialties.
Here are some of my tips for running gradual downhills:
- Increase your cadence: Basically, this means taking small steps. Doing so will help reduce impact (especially on your knees) and will save you energy. You will notice how much lighter and quieter you run when you do this. Shoot for around 180 steps per minute.
- Engage your ‘core’: Doing so will transfer some of the ground reactive forces from your joints to your strong core muscles. Engage your ‘core’ by gently pulling in your belly button about 20-30% and hold this when you run downhill. Don’t engage too hard or too high which will restrict your breathing. Focus on engaging your lower abdominal muscles especially your transverse abdominus.
- Lean slightly down the hill: Many runners put on the brakes when they run downhill. This results in greater impact AND slows you down. As long as you are doing the above focuses, allow yourself to flow down the hill. Don’t lean backwards, instead you should feel a gentle pull down the hill almost like you are falling. When you lean, make sure it is coming from the ankles and you are NOT bending at the waist. It is essential that you first make sure you are running with a high cadence and are engaging your core.
Damian Stoy is the founder of Wholistic Running, biomechanics specialist and professional ultra marathon runner.