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UPHILL/DOWNHILL RUNNING
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April 26, 2005
UPHILL/DOWNHILL RUNNING

This topic was discussed repeatedly, but it is still necessary to return to it again in order to clarify some more details. As we know, most runners have a very negative experience running through a hilly course and especially so during a marathon. Undulating terrain brings a lot of problems to elite, competitive, and recreational runners alike. That's why it's very important to know how to deal with this, in other words, to learn a special technique of uphill/downhill running. From the outside point of view, it may look that the uphill and downhill running techniques are different. But in reality it is not so, because it is still running under the same gravity force influence, and the changes in technique are coming from a slightly different interaction with gravity depending on running up or down the hill. The basic principles and concepts of Pose Method are not changed for running on undulating terrain, and we are still using falling and pulling actions in running Pose, but according to the specific requirements of the hills.

It should be noted here that from the point of view of relative difficulty, running uphill is the easiest one, then goes running on the flat surface, and the most difficult is downhill running. Why it is so? - Because of the degree of freedom of movement in each specific running in relation to gravity. Let's start from the easiest - uphill running. In this kind of running we can't do most of the things, which we have a luxury to do in running on the flat surface. The hill doesn't allow us to over-stride, or land on the heel, or do a push off as it is very costly for muscles and the whole body. We also have to increase the stride frequency due to the reduction of the stride length (shortening the steps) and the necessity to maintain a stable speed or pace of running. Therefore uphill running forces us to run with much better technique, closer to the Pose Method. It helps a lot, but it's still better, if we really understand it and consciously execute the proper technique with better efficiency.

To sum it up: in uphill running we have to be in the same leaning forward position as on the flat course, we have to run with shorter steps and a bit higher stride frequency, and we still have to keep our body weight on the balls of the feet and pull the feet from the ground under the hips. In your perception you'll feel as if you are leaning more, but it is just your feeling coming from the degree of inclination of the hill. On a steeper hill you'll have an even stronger leaning forward feeling.

The adjustment of technique comes down to these several things. You need to get comfortable with the perception of shorter stride length and with the necessity to increase the stride frequency. Try to not fall into temptation of starting to push off, just pull the feet from the ground, not too high, only enough to maintain the necessary stride frequency. If we look over these rules, we can see that most of them instruct to not work against gravity, if it's possible, and if not, then try to reduce any work against it.

Downhill running is the most difficult one, because gravity is available for us there to a much higher degree than on a flat course. That's why our technique should be adjusted accordingly to this overwhelming accessibility of gravity in running. First of all, we should reduce gravity use in running. For this matter, instead of leaning forward, we should keep our body straight, just above the point of support on the ball of the foot as we do it on a flat surface, when we do the Running Pose in place. The next very important requirement is to keep your feet strictly under the body and never extend them out or leave them behind. If you are losing control of their position under the body, then your stride length will be dramatically increased and you'll start "flying" downhill with the obvious bad consequences - landing with much higher impact force from the ground. You know what it means. How to control the degree of gravity use? It is very simple. Keep your body straight, above the ball of the support foot. Keep both feet under the body during downhill running. The proper perception of this is that you are holding your thighs and feet very tight around the vertical line going through the ball of the support foot.

Your muscular efforts should be reduced compared to running on a flat surface and your pull of the foot from the ground should be minimal - just a little off the ground, with higher cadence than on the flat surface. By doing this you'll never lose control of your running pace, which is very important especially in long distance running. A usual thing happening in downhill running in a marathon, for example, is that athletes start running much faster than their average race pace and then they pay a high price for it. Because of seeming easiness of downhill running, they allow themselves to run faster than their normal pace, hoping to pick it up.

The first bad thing that comes from this is that they run out of their established physiological pace and start using a different energy system (usually a carbohydrate system) which usually ends up soon and then the body collapses because it couldn't get back to the previous energy system supply. The second bad thing that comes is that the mechanical impact of faster running creates overloading of muscle system and they lose their functional abilities. The usual consequence is muscle soreness and pain from micro tears of muscle tissues.

So downhill running requires much more control of your body position, a proper upper body - lower body (feet) interaction, a general reduction of efforts and a much higher cadence. Keep your feet low above the ground and reduce your muscle tension and efforts on landing. If you follow these rules your uphill and downhill running will be effective and your race performance will be improved as well.

DOWNHILL:
  1. keep your body straight, just above the point of support on the ball of the foot as you do it on a flat surface, when you do the Running Pose in place
  2. keep your feet strictly under the body and never extend them out or leave them behind
UPHILL:
  1. be in the same leaning forward position as on the flat course
  2. run with shorter steps and a bit higher stride frequency
  3. keep your body weight on the balls of the feet and pull the feet from the ground under the hips
  4. get comfortable with the perception of shorter stride length and with the necessity to increase the stride frequency
  5. try to not fall into temptation of starting to push off
Dr.Romanov

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Comments

My son who is a senior runs "at least" 6-10 miles a day. But when it comes to the cross country meet he doesn't perform as well. Lately he has been complaining of his legs being "tired" and they don't want to move. He says his breathing is good but his legs don't want to move.

Is there something he needs to be doing differently. Diet?? Is it in his head?? I say this because it seems as, if one of his teammates moves ahead of him it is then his legs give out.

Posted by: Concerned Mother at September 27, 2006 05:44 PM

Dr. Romanov,

I am not clear about how to not hit my heel on the ground after the ball of the foot has touched. The heel then tend to sink and touch the gorund. That is especially hard to avoid when running downhill.
Also, perhaps you would know where I can get Nike Waffle Racer 2? It's sold out on through the link provided on your site.

Thank you

Gadi Liss

Posted by: Gadi Liss at March 14, 2006 10:27 AM

It's correct Jerry. It is vertical with regards to the center of the earth.
Dr. Romanov

Posted by: DrRomanov at April 30, 2005 03:23 PM

Dr Romanov,

With regard to your comments on running downhill --

" ... instead of leaning forward, we should keep our body straight, just above the point of support on the ball of the foot as we do it on a flat surface, when we do the Running Pose in place."

I interpret this to mean that with regard to the slope of the hill, the body is not held perpendicular, but rather -- again, with regard to the slope of the hill -- leans backwards. The body is held vertical (straight) with regard to the center of the earth, but leans backward with regard to the slope of the hill. Is this correct?

Thank you.

-- Jerry Griffin

Posted by: Jerry at April 28, 2005 09:56 AM
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