Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Going Downhill

Running hills, especially Georgia hills, can be dreadful for most people. It's the thought of running uphill that people cringe at; however, downhill running can be more strenuous than actual uphill. Rather than going into the physiological reasons just take my word, I promise. Newton's first law (law of inertia) in layman's terms explains that when an object accelerates gravity wants to keep all components of the object together and accelerate as a unit (boring, I know). Basically, gravity pulls your body down the hill at faster acceleration than you were acclimated prior to. Your body can either accelerate with gravity, or you can fight gravity to control your run. If you allow gravity to accelerate your body at an unwanted speed you are more likely to expend your stamina at a quicker rate. On the other hand, if you repel the forces of gravity you can extend your stamina in able to continue your exercise for a longer duration. Here are a few tips to help running downhill:

  1. Proper running mechanics. What I mean by proper running mechanics is basically good posture. Keep your back and abs straight. Running downhill people have a tendency to lean forward with the downhill slope. Leaning forward can complicate your breathing as well as forcing your legs to speed up. So correct your posture and notice how your breathing will remain "normal". Fight the temptation to stomp down the hill. Stomping can lead to numerous acute/major leg/foot injuries. Just keep your "normal" stride length and normal force you use to place your foot on the ground while running downhill.
  2. Minimize stutter-stepping. You may feel the momentum of your body increasing as you run downhill resulting in you trying to slow down by stutter stepping. These short steps are forcing your knees to do majority of the work instead of the your whole leg inserting at the hip. Now you may think your lever is too long to control if you use your entire leg instead of just stutter-stepping. Yea, you increased the length of your lever now it's mind over matter to control your steps by thinking left foot down right foot down. This strategy will also minimize injury.
  3. A strong core. Core meaning abs, glutes, and back. Now that you have your posture down this will help strengthen your core. When running downhill activate your core muscles to help produce more power and control to your legs. It all makes sense. If you have a strong body overall you will be able to control the movements of your body properly. Activating your abs during downhill running will aid in proper breathing. Strong glutes will provide control to your legs, and a strong back will aid in posture. Overall, your running mechanism will increase resulting in good form and posture.
  4. Pace maintenance. Minimize speed bouts down hills to keep your pace comfortable. It's natural to want to increase your speed while running downhill per the boring, or somewhat interesting, law of inertia. If you keep your pace the same prior to running up/downhill you will be able to recover from the hill more efficiently. You didn't expend any necessary energy you may need to utilize to finish at the end of your run.
Song of the week: Jai Ho!/ A.R. Rahman ft. Nicole Scherzinger. Thank you Slumdog Millionaire. I downloaded this song shortly after I saw the movie months ago, and this week my iPod has decided to play it a lot. It's a good upbeat song to help get me through the North Georgia hills :).

Training Tip of the Week: Endurance strength training is just as importance as banking the miles when training for a half or full marathon. Strength training usually doesn't get much publicity from endurance runners because we all want to minimize any unneeded baggage when going for speed. However, endurance strength training will build a better base to your muscle in able to utilize energy more efficiently and produce a little more power. ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) guidelines for endurance strength training for an average healthy adult are as follow:

2-3 days per week
2-4 sets
8-12 repetitions per set
2-3 minutes of rest between each set

Check back in future blogs for more information on this topic as well as cross-training! As for now, go out and conquer those hills! Soon you won't think twice about running hills.

Happy Running,

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