The Secrets to Running Downhill Fast.

Last month we contributed to Jene Shaw’s article in Triathlete Magazine.

Please hit the link here for the entire great article by Jene Shaw. There is lots more here. LINK

Here were some of our Form tips used in Jene’s article for going fast downhill.

Lean forward from the hips, not the shoulders. Gravity naturally pulls you downhill. Avoid the urge to lean back and focus on keeping your body perpendicular to the ground. “As you increase speed, move your center of gravity forward with you; not enough and your feet are sliding out from under you, too much and you’re on your face,” Waerlop says.

Perfect Foot Position

Think of your foot as a tripod, with the three points being the heads of the big and little toes (at the ball line) and the heel. This tripod needs to be level for the foot to function optimally. If you are too much on your heel, your shins need to slow the descent of the foot, which can lead to shin splints. If you land too much on your forefoot, your calves have to work harder to lower your heel and will exaggerate any forefoot abnormality you have in your gait; this will place additional stress on your knees. —The Gait Guys, Drs. Ivo Waerlop and Shawn Allen


Here are some other things to remember when running down hill:

Be a drop of water:  The Zen of watching water run downhill can teach us much. Taking the path of least resistance often is the least stressful for our bodies. Though terrain features like rocks, grass and dirt mounds can be useful to control speed, they also cause deceleration of our bodies, which means you need to reaccelerate them (remember Newtons 1st law?). This costs energy and wear and tear on our chassis.  If you need to regulate speed on your descent, use the terrain options as described or angle your approach to one side or another zigzagging the descent.  Taking the descent on an angle enables you to get 2 legs of your foot tripod on the ground almost immediately for added stability and it shifts your center of gravity to a more vertical or stable position, it also puts your body mass closer to the hill. A slip when descending on an angle is a better controlled slip.  As you gain skill, you can point your feet more progressively down hill.

Do your homework:  In the simplest explanation, muscles contract two ways: concentrically and eccentrically. Concentric contractions explain how the muscle shortens as it contracts, like picking up something. Eccentric contractions explain how the muscle lengthens as it contracts, like putting something you picked up back down. Eccentric contractions are much more costly from an energy and wear and tear perspective, as it takes more energy to break bonds between muscle fibers than make them. Running down hill requires lots of eccentric contraction of muscle, especially the quadriceps and muscles on the front of the shins, as there is a shift from glute drive to quadriceps loading. Running hills requires more (or extra) training particularly the eccentric phase for hill descents because of the increased demand. 

The faster you go, the more perpendicular to the ground your body needs to be:   Because of gravity, you are pulled down a hill. Our instinct may tell us to lean away (or backward) as we descend and pick up speed, but that could spell out disaster and perhaps your last run for quite some time. As you increase speed, you need to have your center of gravity move forward with you; not enough and your feet are sliding out from under you, too much and you are on your face. Again, if speed control is getting challenging, like in backwoods steep descents, zigzag your descent. Managing speed but covering more terrain safely is better than being the first down the hill while the last to get out of the first aid tent.

Look down the hill, not at your feet:  Your brain works best pre-planning the next thing it should do, and works better when multitasking. Looking down at you feet actually facilitates your flexor muscles (the muscles which make you bend forward). This does two things: it makes you tend to fall forward and it turns off your extensor muscles (glutes, hams, back muscles) which are (or should be) the muscles in charge to keep you upright.

Engage your core:  Think of your core as your engine and your legs as your transmission. An engine needs to drive the transmission. Your core muscles (abs, glutes) provide a stable platform for the other limb muscles to work upon.  Not having the core engaged makes you more susceptible to injury, just like if your engine mount were broken.

Relax:  Your mind is like a parachute; it works best when open. Stiffening up elicits protective reflexes that could be dangerous while running downhill. Imagine trying to drive your car with the airbag inflated. Let go and follow the flow.