Running downhill: preparatory techniques and exercises

We take it for granted that running uphill is the most tiring part of the route and we neglect the descent, yet if the next day we have pain in the legs it is the descent that is the cause. All the tips for learning to run downhill

Carlotta Montanera


If running uphill is muscularly tiring, running downhill requires a lot of technique and lots of training. We often think that going downhill is less difficult and therefore we can accelerate, but in reality things are very different. Indeed running downhill activates the muscles differently than usual, in a way that needs to be trained. The muscle contracts eccentrically, that is, it produces force by lengthening rather than shortening. Specifically, the quadriceps above all, in descent it must support the weight of the body without shortening, but remaining in elongation. There eccentric contraction it is a contraction that practically never trains in flat running and often we do not deal with it completely. The result is that at the first outing with a lot of descent – trail runners know this well – the next day we walk like puppets. That is, we are full of DOMS. In addition, if we have not trained the descents we do not even have too much useful running technique to come to our rescue and everything can be very complicated to manage. Do you know how it feels on a flat stretch where you can run after an important descent? We will talk rigid, it seems that the legs cannot push, the muscles are soft. So let’s see how to make up for this deficiency.

develop eccentric strength

To develop this type of strength, running flat is not enough. We have two ways: the first, intuitive, is that of train downhill. It almost sounds like a joke, but downhill middle rep sessions are very useful. However, if we face this type of training without any preparation, the risk of injury is just around the corner. So we come to the second method, in my opinion essential: thegym training. To train eccentric strength we must basically resist a force. Let’s take the example of the squat, which we all know. We often train the ascent in the squat, that is when we rise from the squatted position to an upright position. We push on the buttocks and quadriceps and go up with difficulty, perhaps adding important overloads. The eccentric strength, on the other hand, is trained in the moment of the descent, when we resist the weight of the body or the overload in order not to collapse to the ground and from the erect piszione we squat. So here is that the descent phase becomes very important and must be as slow as possibleand in order to strengthen the muscle being stretched. There are also special machines that train called eccentric strength isoinertial machines. In general, however, any push-up exercise has two phases, concentric and eccentric: the secret is to slow down the eccentric one as much as possible by gradually increasing the resistance. After careful preparation, you can more safely move on to specific downhill running workouts.

Running downhill: technique and mistakes to avoid

There are two common technical errors. The first mistake is to brake. When the descent becomes difficult it is instinctive to bring the weight back trying to brake. However, if we look at the strongest athletes running downhill, we will realize that they practically never brake, on the contrary, their weight is projected forward. In this way the eccentric contraction phase decreases and the muscle remains cooler. Obviously, not braking is also linked to a remarkable technical ability in running downhill and perhaps uneven paths. And here we come to the second mistake: keeping an uncertain pace. The slower and more uncertain our pace is, the more the time of contact with the ground increases. The probability of falling they are directly proportional to the contact time and therefore the more we brake the more, paradoxically, we risk falling. A quick and reactive step, on the other hand, hardly generates falls. For a quick step you must have trained feet! The best exercises to train the muscles and joints of the foot are the plyometric ones. Go ahead with leaps, rope jumping exercises, climbing steps, fast skips. A secret to taking less crooked? Run with your feet slightly like a duck. In fact, if you open the toes slightly, it will be more difficult for the ankle to yield outwards even in the case of stony ground.

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