Everyone seems to fixate on the uphill burn. Butt busting your cardio workout certainly provides many benefits, however, it’s easy to over-do it. Training for the downhill not only creates a balanced routine, but it also keeps game-changing injuries and overuse at bay.
Why Uphill Matters
Before we dive into the benefits of downhill training, we want to give uphill a quick pat on the back. First, you get to kick your cardio into high gear, while keeping your workout low impact. Uphill workouts don’t have nearly the same impact as flat or downhill workouts. These quad and hip flexor-heavy hills help give you a punchy cardio workout, without the impact. However since uphill movement requires tightening action from your muscles, it starts to burden your knee caps, slowly causing them to pull out of alignment. The result from too much uphill training is knee pain on the downhill.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
It’s easy to avoid downhill training in a gym, where the treadmill can provide you with all the uphill you could ever ask for, but in the real world, when you climb a hill, you also have to descend it.
When heading downwards you land each step with a force three to four times your body weight. This force creates a tremendous impact on your joints and muscles. However, the resulting impact causes your body to produce more connective tissue, strengthening it over time. The good news is all the impact affects the intensity of your training. When training indoors, a mild grade offers just as much benefit going downhill as an intense uphill grade.
Avoiding Knee Pain
The key to successful downhill training is keeping your alignment in check. Knee pain, hip pain, and back pain are all associated with downhill impact. As you head downhill, your muscles are forced to lengthen. If you’ve trained heavily for uphill, this can cause tension at your knee caps and cause pesky knee pain.
Counteract knee pain in two ways. First, focus on taking aligned downhill steps by keeping your ankle, knee, and hip aligned (don’t let your knee fall outwards or inwards from your body). Also, when training for the uphill, focus on activating your glutes and pushing with your butt instead of pulling with your quads. This creates strong glutes, which are an essential part of keeping aligned when moving downhill.
Walk Don’t Run
As you head downhill, you’re contending with gravity. It’s easy to want to let gravity do the work and slam your foot down. This is even easier if you’re running. Instead of running downhill, walk instead until you are comfortable with aligned movement. Over time, elongate your stride and go slightly faster, this enables your balance system (proprioceptive system) to take over.
These quick tips are designed to help you create a more balanced training plan by keeping the downhill training in mind.