How to Improve Your Downhill Training

Focus on Form

Use mental cues to optimize your form and reduce your injury risk. Instead of looking at your feet, pretend you have a grapefruit nestled between your chin and your chest, Coster says. This keeps your gaze 10 to 15 meters in front of you and your posture upright. Engage your core and lean forward slightly from the ankles, aligning your upper body over your lower body or even slightly ahead of it—battling your natural tendency to lean backward and slow down, Mayer says.

More: 4 Form Drills to Improve Your Technique

As you descend, shorten your stride and quicken your cadence. That way, you'll take lighter steps and land more on your mid-foot instead of using your heel as a brake. And keep a slight bend in your landing leg to avoid absorbing all the impact in your knee, Wells says.

How Form Changes When You Run Hills

Time it Wisely

If you're planning for a descent-filled race, begin adding downhill workouts early in your training schedule. "As with any new training type, it's always best to start small," Mayer says.

Begin with one downhill session every other week. Eventually, you can work up to one or two per week, but schedule another only when you've completely recovered from the previous one, Wells says.

If you're running a race with extremely steep downhills, make at least a few of these workouts race-effort runs that include similar terrain, Coster says—but avoid downhill repeats on such sharp declines. And dial things back again as your race nears. Avoid pushing the pace on downhills two to three weeks beforehand, when the risk of injury outweighs the benefits, Mayer advises.

4 Ways to Make Hill Training Easier

Perfect the Plunge

Challenging downhill workouts from coach Rebekah Mayer

Downhill Walk/Run

Beginners can select a route with gradual rolling hills, ideally on grass or a dirt or gravel trail. Walk the ascents and gently run the descents, letting the hills carry you down.

More: How to Create a Proper Walk/Run Program

Downhill Repeats

After three months of consistent downhill running, try these tougher intervals. Find a grassy hill about 100 meters long (the length of a football field) with a two-to three-percent grade. after a 10-minute warmup, run up at an easy pace, then run down at a comfortably hard effort. Repeat two to four times. Each week, you can add a repeat or two, or find a slightly steeper hill.

Downhill Loops

To home in on preparing for a hilly race, find a 1-to 1.5-mile hilly loop. After a 10-minute warmup, run the loop with moderate effort on the uphills and a comfortably hard effort (about your goal pace) on the downhills. Rest for two minutes, and then repeat two to four times. Each week or two, you can progress by either adding a loop, picking up the pace, or reducing the rest time.

More: Build Strength and Improve Speed With Hill Workouts

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