Downhill Running Tips

Hill running - Tips for Running Downhill

When the road or trail slopes downward, a lot of us breathe a sigh of relief; the work of cresting the hill, however big or small, is over. You’d think you could just shift into cruise control and let gravity provide a little free speed. You could, but your body would suffer, and you could also easily trip up and come face-to-face with the asphalt or dirt. Form matters. Here are some tips for saving your muscles and joints, being efficient (therefore, faster), and not hitting the deck.


Body Position

It’s natural to want to lean back when running downhill, as doing so slows your forward momentum. However, leaning backward in your upper body also puts added strain on your quads, and can lead to strains and other issues (at the very least, severe quad soreness). Leaning backward also hinders control of your body as your legs can feel like they’re getting away from you. And in a sense, they are.

Instead, aim to keep your torso over your legs, or even lean slightly ahead of them. (Just attempting to lean slightly forward will likely land you directly over your legs.) This takes added stress off your quads, and also allows you to control your legs from a more centered position.

Foot Strike

It’s also natural to land on your heels when running downhill, but doing so in an exaggerated sense creates more backward leaning; backward leaning leads to more heel-striking. Aim for landing more on your midfoot or lightly on your heel to help overall body positioning and minimize over-striding (which can lead to strains and lack of control).

Shorter strides, versus longer, will also help with where on your foot you land. And shorter strides help you stay in better control than longer strides. Imagine tripping on a rock in the middle of a short stride versus in the middle of a long, gaping stride. It’s easier to recover and regain balance when the stride is short. 

On flats and on downhills, it behooves you to run lightly and avoid a slappy sound to your feet hitting the ground. (This happens naturally on uphills.) Instead, shift forces upward to spread throughout your body, and control those footfalls, aiming for graceful, quiet steps instead of loud ones.


Descending on trails, especially ones riddled with rocks and roots, adds a whole other layer of care. Keeping steps shorter and not leaning backward become even more critical on rougher trails. Widen your arm-swing to help with counterbalancing. Keep your eyes scanning between 10 to 15 feet and 3 to 5 feet in front of you, allowing your brain to get a read on what’s ahead. And look where you want to go, not where you don’t—your body will follow your eyes.


To get better at running downhill, run downhill, either by finding routes with rolling terrain, or by finding long climbs with, subsequently, long descents. You can also do downhill hill repeats.

Downhill Hill Repeats

To train downhill hill repeats, seek out a soft surface: smooth grass, ideally without hidden potholes. After warming up at least 15 minutes with an easy jog, or at the end of a run, find a decline to run at a quick tempo. This can be down a short slope at a park or golf course, or up to 150 or 200 meters on a road or smooth dirt path.

Focus on your form—keeping your body leaning slightly forward, landing on your midfoot—while running quickly (not at an all-out sprint). Jog or walk back to the start of the hill, and repeat. Start with just three or four of these your first few times out. You can gradually build up to 10 or so, depending on the length of the descent, the steepness, and how your body feels afterward.

(Don’t be fooled that these will be easy on our body due to their downhill nature.)

Downhill Trail Efforts

Many athletes train for uphills, but training the downhills is just as important. If doing a tempo run, don’t just run at a speedy tempo up the hill and then cruise down. Continue your speed through the downhill, returning to an easy pace when the run becomes flat or partially down a long descent.

Running quickly downhill on technical trails takes practice. The more you do it, the more comfortable you become, and the quicker you get. Run downhill trail sections with intention, while staying relaxed. The more relaxed you can stay while aiming for good body positioning and footfall, the more you’ll be able to settle into a fluid and enjoyable flow.