During my long run over the weekend, we ran up and down two bridges. They were short but the grade was significant. Throughout our run, one of my friends kept egging me on to run faster. I’m kind of a downhill junkie, so when the opportunity presented itself, I took her up on that offer and ran carefree down the hill. When my running partners met me at the end of the hill, one of them said to me, “from amateur runner to running coach, your form falls apart when you’re tired.”
His statement is true but only partially. I’ve had a gait analysis done and every time I take a photo or video of myself running, I re-analyze my form. As a new runner, it was something I never thought of. But as a running coach, and a runner who’s had her fair share of injuries, analyzing people’s gaits — and my own — is now second nature.
Here’s what he observed: we were nearing the end of our run. I ran full steam ahead down the hill. I wasn’t focusing one iota on my form. Not even a little bit. Know what I was doing? I was running for the pure enjoyment of it — similar to a child. And it was amazing. Having said that, he’s right. When I run like that, full on downhill with not a care in the world, my form completely falls apart. My arms swing and cross the midline of my body. My stride lengthens and I just go. And it’s all good — for those short bursts of fun running. When it’s not good is during training.
The Benefits of Downhill Running (and Uphill, too!)
All runners complain about hills. I complain about hills. They’re hard. But running hills is exceptional. Hill work is speed work in disguise. You can use hill running to build speed and strength, or you can simply use it to work on form. One often overlooked aspect of hill work, however, is running downhill. We runners tend to take it for granted. And why not? It’s easier, right? Sure — except when you’re racing a net downhill marathon and haven’t trained properly.
Running Uphill vs. Downhill Running
Running uphill works all the “back” muscles — the hamstrings, calves, glutes, hips and even the Achilles and small muscles around your ankles and feet. These muscles help propel us and stabilize us. Hill repeats help build the muscular power of the backside muscles, allowing us to run on virtually any surface.
Though our quads are worked during running uphill, downhill running recruits the quads to do almost all the work. It’s difficult to simulate the demands of downhill running without actually running down a hill, which is another reason hill training can be so beneficial to runners.
Running a rolling hill course or training route is preferable to some runners because running uphill rests the quads while downhill running gives our hamstrings, glutes, and calves a break.
Focus on Form
Whether running uphill or downhill, remember to always focus on your form.
To run uphill with great form, make sure you keep your stride length short. Arms should be bent at your sides at a 90? angle and you should lean forward at the ankles (not the waist). In general, you should “run tall” — and this is applicable to all running, not just uphill. The “taller” you run, the better your posture.
To properly run downhill, you need to keep the same form you use for running uphill. You want to have a slight lean forward, shoulders over your hips, keep your stride length short and your cadence up, and your arms bent at a 90? angle at your sides. A lot of people are inclined to let their form go when running downhill or to lean back. Unless you’re running for the pure enjoyment of running downhill and it’s not a sustained activity, don’t do either of those. If the grade of the hill is too steep to run with good form, walk. If you change your form and lean backward, you’ll put undue stress on your hip flexors and lower back.
Simply put, sustained downhill running without proper training has the potential to trash the quads and quite possibly the hip flexors, too. However, you can check out the unlock your hip flexors review if this happens and find plenty of exercises to improve your hip flexors and gain strength.
Running Hills Will Make You a Stronger Runner
It’s no secret running hills will make you a stronger runner. As much as I dislike hill repeats, I don’t shy away from long runs on hilly routes. I encourage my clients in relatively flat areas to work on hills when possible. Hills make us stronger.
If you practice running hilly routes, your quads and tendons and ligaments will get used to the strain of running downhill. When faced with a potential hilly race, you’ll be prepared for both the ups and downs.
Test Your Hill Running Ability at the Hoosier Half!
Want to test out your hill running ability? Great! Because I have a giveaway for a fairly hilly half marathon in April. The race is the Hoosier Half in Bloomington, Indiana. It’s an amazing race and I wish I were able to run it again this year.
Check out my recap of the 2016 race!
The course is full of rolling hills through the campus of Indiana University. It’s a really fun race, the course is beautiful, and Bloomington is a fantastic city to celebrate your success afterward. I can’t rave enough about Bloomington or the Hoosier Half so just take my word for it and enter to win. Or read this article and maybe you’ll see more of what I mean. 🙂
I have three entries to give away so tell your friends to enter, too! Race date is April 8, 2017.
What’s the takeaway today? A few:
1. Hills will make you stronger.
2. Don’t plan on a net downhill course without proper training. You’ll regret it.
3. If you’re gonna run downhill for training purposes, keep the integrity of your running form. Don’t get all Phoebe Buffay and run like a wild woman like I do. It’s fun but if you’re training, it’s not a safe way to do it.
And with that, I open up the comments section to you for any questions you have about hill running. Scroll down to enter my giveaway for an entry to the Hoosier Half!
Happy running. 🙂
TALK TO ME!
Hill repeats: yay or nay?
Be truthful: do you focus on form when running downhill?
Giveaway details: Giveaway starts March 1, 2017 at 12:00 am EST and ends March 8, 2017 at 12:00 am EST. One prize per person. Void where prohibited.
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