Rachel Joyce running downhill
Rachel Joyce running downhill
Training > Run

Two downhill running drills to improve strength and stability

We show you how to safely and effectively improve your ability to descend rapidly on foot

Are you keen to start incorporating some downhill running into your training? Tri coach Joe Beer offers a few sessions and technique pointers to get you started...

My first question would be: is this for race prep or are you just looking for fast leg turnover? Because the forces involved in downhill running create high levels of muscle damage and reduce strength for between 2-4 days. This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which translates to a drop in running efficiency of around 2-7%, so is not ideal in the taper to a key race. 

If your races involve downhill running then you can acclimatise by building up run time gradually (like the rolling session below). If, however, you’re on a quest to increase leg speed you should also consider treadmill intervals (for example, 8 x 20secs at above 5km effort) or straight-line running using slight tail winds (for example, 10 x 15-30secs at 3-5km pace), as well as the below ‘turnover’ session.

But remember that downhill running can cause injury, so follow these tips to stay safe: Always choose your shoes and the surface/gradient of the hill carefully as tarmac and concrete are very harsh; vary foot placement to minimise excessive pounding, don’t just hit the heel hard or slap the foot – concentrate on smooth landing; your feet will move faster, so be mentally prepared to increase the stride rate and look ahead for obstacles. Here are two different sessions to start with:

Rolling session

Warm-up

Gradually move from low- to upper-Zone One (60-75% HRmax) for 10-15mins over lightly rolling terrain. 

Main session

Run a loop or out-and-back that includes 3-7% inclines, ideally on softer surfaces on the downs and firmer surfaces on the ups. Don’t aim for a set pace, go as your body feels best for 20-40mins. Focus on increasing leg turnover downhill but with light feet and maintaining control. Record the amount of downhill running you’ve done. 

Cool-down

Relaxed ~10mins light effort. 3-5 x 16-20 stride accelerations on the flat.

Stretching

Focus on the quads, calfs and hamstrings.

Turnover session

Warm-up

Gradually move from low- to mid-Zone One (60-70% HRmax) for 10-15mins over lightly rolling terrain.

Main session

Run a series of downhill intervals on a 4-8% incline. Don’t aim for a set pace, but turn legs over faster than race pace. Stay controlled, quiet foot contact, fast arm turnover. For example, 12 x 20-30secs with an easy and relaxed jog back up the incline as recovery. 

Cool-down

Relaxed ~10mins easy running on flat terrain with 8 x 12 strides.

Stretching

Focus on the quads, calfs and hamstrings.

(Main image: Don Karle)

For lots more advice on how to swim/bike/run faster, head to our Training section


 
 

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