Secrets To Downhill Running

The thrill of bombing down a fast section of single track is part of why I crave the thrill of mountain running. For me, it is the closest thing I can get to flying.

But let’s face it...not ALL of us love downhill running. For those of us that don’t fancy the quad thrashing, knee aching, fear of falling, good time- there are a few secrets I am about to let you in on, that will take your descending from pounding to flying.


Turn and Burn:


If there is one thing that separates the pounders from the flyers, it’s their cadence. Bombing down with long, extended strides in front of your body creates a braking effect and wreaks havoc on the quads and joints. Fast, controlled downhill running requires a short stride with your foot landing underneath your body and a fast cadence. Through quick strides, your contact to the ground is short and light. At first this will feel unnatural, but as you become more efficient and confident in your downhill running, it will save a lot of the stress and strength by not absorbing all the impact.


Secret: Develop Elasticity


You can improve your ability to have a quick efficient cadence by tapping into your body’s natural ability to utilize elasticity. You can think of elasticity as how fast your body is capable of changing the direction of force. In running, it’s how quickly we can get our foot off the ground while translating all of the force we just captured into powering the next stride.


We can train our bodies to be elastic with explosive exercises, like jumps and bounds, and specific running drills. At Physical Therapy Elite, this is a critical component to all of our Run Programming and Sports Performance training.


From The Center:


Think of your abs, glutes and back as your stable base that your limbs work around.

In any type of movement, the deep intrinsic core muscles and the glutes are important to both force production and overall control of the body. The ability to activate and utilize your core and glutes (posterior chain) properly, will make your running so much more efficient as your body will have greater control over the legs. It also minimizes the impact on the quads and knees that generally take the beatdown while crushing downhill.


Posture Tall Into The Hill:


When you’re running down a hill, it’s natural to feel apprehensive and stiff. After all, the goal is to stay up on your feet and not barreling down in a human snowball.

But by leaning back and trying to brake with your heel, you’re creating an unneeded strain on your legs and quads that we just talked about. The good news is gravity rocks! Proper downhill running allows gravity to be our perfect workhorse. Instead of leaning back, you want to lean into the hill to stay the most stable. Keep the body perpendicular with the terrain.

In other words, if the ground is sloped down, you want to lean forward so that your body remains at a proper T with the trail. As a note, leaning into the hill does not mean hinging at the waist, but instead lean from the ankles. Think...controlled fall.


When leaning forward, you’re able to drive the knees up instead of reaching out the legs in front of you. This will keep your foot strike light and on the mid-foot, instead of throwing all your weight and force into the heel.


Secret: Develop Functional Strength

Your ability to maintain stability through your spine, hips, knees and ankles during each step is crucial to controlling your body's direction and forward speed as you hit the ground. Having strong muscles surrounding the joints is key to creating this stability. At Physical Therapy Elite, we train our athletes with running specific single and double leg drills and strength exercises, so that joints are protected and maximum power and efficiency can be achieved.  


Looking For More?

Physical Therapy Elite is hosting a Run Clinic specifically to help you maximize your ability to run efficiently both up and downhill. Join us August 3, 2017 at 6:00pm - taking place at the Triple Tree Trail Head.