How to Run Downhill


I always thought running uphill was the worst part about a long run, until I discovered the woes of running downhill. The other day I told my husband the aggressive mantra I keep when running uphill (it includes swearing and some not-so-nice suggestions about where hills can, well, shove it), and he told me I should run downhill to appreciate the uphill. I laughed thinking downhill’s are a treat, not realizing I’d never truly run down hill before.

Running down a steep trail the other day I thought, there has to be another way. There must be something better than experiencing the repetitive shock sent from my heel to my head, creating every hidden (and obvious, let’s be real) cell of fat to jiggle, as I maneuver myself between rocks and trees and puddles, praying to god I don’t trip and break open my forehead on any obstacle in my path—

And the Google delivered. From a few articles about downhill running I gathered some helpful hints and tips that will hopefully aid us all in enjoying the downhill a little more while hurting our bodies a little less.

Think of your foot as a tripod:

A downhill strike works best when you get the top and bottom of your toes to strike at the same time as your heel. It’s similar to how we should be striking anyway. However, in a typical stride, the force should be focused on the forefoot while the foot strikes the ground. When running downhill you want equal force and balance between the front and back of your foot.

Think hips not shoulders:

Where a lot of us go wrong is when we lean back and away from the hill. Our bodies should be perpendicular when running downhill, that means leading with your hips, not your shoulders. Leading with shoulders is not only bad form, but also creates unnecessary tension and pain in the neck and traps. Speaking of your neck, while you’re keeping that beautiful perpendicular form, pretend there’s a grapefruit between the chin and chest. That way you’re not leading with your neck either…

The ground is lava:

Remember that game you played as a kid? Keep it in mind while facing your downhill demons. By keeping ground contact to a minimum, you keep the spring in your step that might be necessary for quick maneuvers around hard-to-see obstacles.

Don’t fight the force:

Gravity is our friend! XTERRA world champ Lesley Paterson recommends flailing arms to the side for balance. It helps if you suddenly need to change direction, and also, it’s pretty fun.

Engage your core:

This is pretty much a rule for every outdoor activity. You can check out some easy ways to strengthen your core here.

You can check out some more flushed out, scientific articles through the following links:

Hope that helps! What other tips do you have for downhill running?




One thought on “How to Run Downhill”

  1. Great post! Thank you for sharing it. It’s important to listen to your body. It will tell you when what you’re doing is not right. There’s a difference between tired hurt and damage hurt. Pay attention.
    I never liked downhills and it goes for climbing as well. I did a climb in Aspen one year with my husband and brother in law. Pyramid was both rocky and steep. They practically ran down the hill… the wrong way. I sat on my butt most of the way because I instantly figured that trying to keep up with these six footers would do some damage. To this day my brother in law cannot climb he damaged his knees so bad and my husband fared only slightly better but did damage as well. I, on the other hand can, did okay although one knee yells at me on occasion. Other than that my knees are still with me.
    Again, great post. If you learn to do it right, you can save yourself some heartache later.


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