How often should you practice downhill running?
Unfortunately, it may not be as simple as going out and doing downhill repeats as you may do for uphill running.
It has been shown, linked with the increase in force as mentioned above, that “downhill running substantially increases the probability of overuse running injury” (Gottschall and Kram, 2005). Relative to running on the flats, downhill running typically sees a reduction in cadence (steps per minute) and a greater time in the air (Vernillo et al., 2017). This may go some way to explaining why the force is greater on landing.
This increase in landing force has an impact on your legs. Chen et al. (2007) showed that athletes that ran for 30 minutes on a -15 percent slope had a decrease in running economy of between four to seven percent for several days after the downhill session. Furthermore, perceived muscle soreness peaked two days afterward.
If you adopt downhill run training as part of your weekly workouts, it can impact sessions later in the week leading to less training overall. But that isn’t to say that downhill running is all bad and should be avoided. In fact, downhill run training has been shown to improve knee extension strength, and the ability to change direction (Toyomura et al., 2017), which may be useful for technical trail runs.
Adopting a measured approach is best to improve my descending skills and speed.
Key Elements of Downhill Running Technique
Typically when descending stride length increases, cadence drops and time in air increases. This is partly due to changes in running form and leaning back more, and applying a braking force with a heel strike.
When descending, try to increase your cadence by taking shorter steps and landing more on the mid to forefoot. This is essential on more technical terrain. Additionally, shift your body forward to stay perpendicular to the hill; this will help bring your center of gravity forward and help you land with your weight over your feet.
Another good goal is to try to run quietly. If your feet are hitting the ground with a larger force, they are likely to make more noise. A simple way to try and improve your form is by descending quietly, with light steps.