We all do hill repeats in our running training, but we often forget that downhill running is a skill that needs to be developed too! One of my least favorite things is seeing someone fly by me on the downhill after I worked really hard to pass them on the uphill.
Downhill running uses your quads in a much different way than on the uphill. In effect your quads have to catch you with every step, softening the impact of your downward stride and slowing the fall of your body to the ground. This slowing, or eccentric loading, forces your quads to do more work while extending (through the process of your knee bending). This is opposite of how most of train our muscles in the weight room where we are lifting while contracting our muscles. Next week we'll post with ways to train for downhill running while in the weight room, but today we'll focus on ways to train for downhill running while on the trails.
Just like training for the uphill, it's important to devote specific sessions to working on your downhill skills. Due to the extra destruction to you muscle fibers, however, we recommend a more limited approach to this: one downhill workout every 2-3 weeks at the most.
A beginning downhill workout could look something like this:
On a technical section of downhill trail run 3 sets of 90 second, 60 second, 30 second downhill intervals with walk/jog back up to startline recovery (1-2 minute recovery if you have a big enough hill to not have to go back up).
These are relatively short intervals on purpose. This is a workout designed to improve footwork, quad strength, and descending confidence, not overall fitness. To that end here are three things to focus on while descending:
Remember to work downhill running into your training plan gradually! It usually takes an extra day or two beyond the end of feeling sore for your cells to be fully recovered from a tough downhill session. Soon you'll be able to bomb down any hill!
(Photo by Seth Orme)