As temperatures cool, many runners hit the trails. Combined with the fun of varied terrain, the vast colors of fall foliage, and the serenity trails have to offer, the autumn months are known for helping new runners fall in love with running and old runners renew their passion. Trail running, however, can be challenging in many ways.

Running uphill can be demanding on the cardiovascular system and going downhill also takes a toll on the body. The European Journal of Physiology has shown that compared to running on flat surfaces, running downhill requires more eccentric work from the quadriceps, meaning the muscles are working as they lengthen. These contractions cause more micro tears in the muscles. This can lead to faster muscle fatigue, a decrease in locomotion efficiency, and slower recovery.

Here are some tips for maintaining downhill running form:

  1. Lean forward: When running downhill, the tendency is to lean back in order to feel more in control. This will only slow you down and increase muscle soreness in the quadriceps. Stick to a slight forward lean and keep your center of gravity over your legs.
  2. Keep short strides: It can be tempting to lengthen your stride, but this usually leads to more of a heel striking pattern and harder impact. To avoid this, aim to land on the mid foot.
  3. Cadence of 180 per minute: 90 steps per foot is the standard measure at any speed. You will be tempted to run faster downhill, but try to maintain this standard cadence for efficiency.

The exercises displayed to the right are designed to help improve your downhill running and minimize risk of injury.
single leg balance
runners touch

Easthope CS, Hausswirth C, Louis, et al. Effects of a Trail Running Competition on Muscular Performance and efficiency in well trained young and master athletes. European Journal of Physiology. 2010; 110: 1107-1116.;Goss DL and Gross M. A Review of Mechanics and Injury Trends Among Various Running Styles. U.S. Army Medical Department Journal. 2012: 62-71.