While trudging up a monstrous hill, generally all you can think about is hitting the top and finally cruising down the other side—like a dog with his face hanging out the passenger side window on a sunny day, you’ll let go and enjoy the ride. Right?
Find Your Rhythm
“Most importantly, you want to take lots of small, quick steps to get down the hill,” says Scott. A quicker rhythm helps you land softly and spring off the ground more easily (if you hear your feet pounding the pavement you’re doing it wrong). “Your cadence and running form will improve and you’ll be getting your body used to taking more strides per minute which helps you become faster over time.”
Practice On A Gentler Surface
Before you hit the ground running (literally), consider trying out your new running technique on more forgiving terrain. “Since your body absorbs a big impact with each foot strike, start off on a softer terrain, like grass or dirt as you work on your downhill technique,” Scott recommends.
Your downhill running prep isn’t just limited to the great outdoors. Susan Simon, a running coach who teaches the Equinox Precision Running class in New York City, suggests preparing for your downhill runs by adding step-downs to your indoor strength-training routine. Start first with a low height—no more than a six-inch step or the bottom step stairs at your home. Stand on top of the step. Using one leg at a time, step down to the floor with one foot, and immediately step down with the other foot, then return back to the starting position on top of the step. Continue doing this for 10 reps, then alternate the starting leg, and repeat for three rounds total. “This mimics the action of your stride moving downhill with your front leg lowering first, and stabilizing the knee and hip of the back leg,” says Simon.
A variation of this, or a quick warmup pre-run, can be done without a step: Start with balancing on your left leg and bend forward at your hip as you extend your right leg forward towards the ground maintaining a straight or slightly bent leg, attempting to reach your foot as far forward as you can, just tapping the ground (similar to a pistol squat). Stand back up on the balanced leg in between reps (your lifted knee does not need to break 90-degrees). Do 10 reps on each side.
By incorporating downhills into your training you can handle them better, save your body from future injuries and literally make or break your performance during your next race. PR, here you come!