Runners often make the mistake of neglecting their downhill running. They are intent on shaving minutes of their ascents and flats, but the gains to be made from improving your descents are potentially massive. What’s more, if you are efficient you will not wreck your legs for the next climb.
There are three easy ways to get faster.
First things first, you need to build up strong quads, glutes and hamstrings. It will be near impossible to hold good technique, especially when you’re tired, if your muscles are not strong enough. What’s more, they will be able to bear the impact so you are less likely to injure yourself.
The strength in each leg needs to be even too. Try these exercises.
- Pistol Squats
- The ideal pistol squat is a full, one-legged squat as low as possible until the non-weight baring leg is parallel to the ground. It is very difficult, and if you cannot do it, use a TRX. Set the TRX so the load baring hook is above your head height, hold the handles and step back so the TRX is taut and your arms are straight. Complete a one-legged squat, while lifting up the other leg parallel to the ground and taking weight on your arms (but never bend your arms). Repeat four sets of eight. If this is not possible, start by standing on one leg and sitting on a chair and standing back up again to improve strength.
- Hip thrusters
- Put your shoulders/upper back on a bench, and a weight on your hips. You can put a barbell across your pelvis, or use whatever you have to hand. Or just use your body weight if you are starting out. With one foot flat on the ground, raise your hips until your body and non-weight baring leg are parallel to the ground, and lower. Repeat four sets of eight.
Core and balance
A strong core will help maintain the correct posture and technique, relieving strain on other muscles. Balance will help you fly down the hill, and avoid injury. Your balance will improve with strength training, but there are more specific exercises you can do.
- Core training
- There are so many core exercises you can do. Plank; side plank; leg raises; sit ups; dead bugs; hollow holds; elbow to knee crunches; press ups with should touches – the list goes on. Try mixing up the excises in circuits – six exercises, one minute each, with no break. Then, a two-minute break and repeat. If that is too hard, try 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest with each movement and build from there.
- Deceleration jumps: Balance on one leg, and then take a leap forward, landing on the same leg. As soon as you land, try and be as still as possible. Have a slight bend in your knee, but do not squat down as you land. Just land and freeze. Repeat four sets of eight jumps on each leg.
- Wobble board: Stand on the middle of a wobble board with one foot. Try four sets of 30 seconds. If it is too easy, make it hard by completely other movements on the wobble board like squats or even single leg Romanian dead lifts, where you lean your body forward and lift your back leg up so your body and leg are parallel to the ground. If balancing on one leg is too hard, stand with two feet on the board, with a slight bend in the knee. Try and stay still for 30 seconds at a time.
Technique – Quick steps
The easiest way to improve your technique is to take smaller steps. It gives you more control and maintains momentum. If you overstride, the shock on your joints can cause injury and each time your foot lands it acts as a break. Try running with a very high cadence, and practice it until it feels natural.
Look forward, not at your feet. Trust your brain to remember what’s coming milliseconds ahead of you. Keep your centre of gravity forward, but not by bending from your hips. Almost as though you are controlled falling lean from your ankles. At first, it feels scary, so practice it on less steep, grassy slopes, first.
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