I once ran a trail marathon that was flat for the first 6.2 miles, uphill for 10 miles, and downhill for the final 10 miles. Guess which part hurt the most?
While going uphill for 10 miles was a real test of cardio fitness, grit, endurance, and 🍑 strength — once we hit that turn around and started downhill, the REAL test began — who can survive 10 miles of quad trashing and make it to the finish?
That last 8 miles of that race was a wasteland of runners stretching and punching their thighs to try to get the horrendous quad cramps to pass so they could finish the race. It was hard to watch. But I was prepared for it and ended up 🥇 my age group in that race.
Some of the most brutal courses I’ve been on were ones with lots of downhill, which seems like a massive selling point … but it’s actually a trap 😈
When it comes to running or hiking hills, going downhill may feel easier on your cardiovascular system but it’s actually causing a lot of damage to your muscle fibers and all that damage can add up pretty quickly if you’re not prepared for it.
When going downhill, your quads are simultaneously activating to absorb shock and lengthening to lower your center of mass which means if you haven’t trained your quads to be actively engaged in a lengthened position, you might very quickly find yourself standing on the side of the course pounding on your thighs too.
Check out this video for some of my favorite ways to strength train for downhill running/hiking:
1️⃣ SLOW Step-Downs
2️⃣ Front Rack TEMPO Split Squats
3️⃣ Front Rack ECCENTRIC Step-Ups
4️⃣ Sandbag Box Step-Up & Overs
Notice I’m going slow (full 3 seconds) throughout the part that most people just speed through — don’t rush the descent.
Don’t do these movements more than once per week since they are likely to cause some muscle soreness — which is actually kind of the point since we’re looking to build more durable downhill legs — BUT you gotta give your body time to rebuild that tissue. You tear muscle up when you train, you get stronger when you rest.
And if you have knee pain during or after these movements, watch your knee tracking and get yourself to a good physical therapist.