Does Running Cadence Change on Downhills?

« Go Back

Downhill running can be a lot of fun, and it offers a great opportunity to gain speed. But, it’s very different from running on level ground. Since gravity’s pull is much greater on downhills than on flats or uphills, it’s especially important to reduce impact as much as possible. Our special ChiRunning techniques for downhills make them safer, faster, and easier. Most of us have never been taught how to run hills, so these techniques are especially helpful for beginning runners.

Here’s a great question posted on our ChiRunning Forum about hills:

“I’m following the ChiRunning 10K training program and, since my race is hilly, I’ve been adding hills into my workouts. Here’s my question; when I am running on a long, slight downhill I can really feel gravity pull me. Sometimes the pull will increase my cadence, Should I ‘go with the flow’ and let my cadence increase, or control the cadence back to 170-180 strides per minute?”

Easy Downhills: When you’re running down a slight incline you should keep your ChiRunning form basically the same as on level ground. This means you should lean slightly forward from the ankles while keeping your cadence steady at 170-180 spm. This will train you to relax your hips and lengthen your stride as your speed picks up. Running this way requires you to hold your upper body forward as you lean down the hill, and you’ll feel it as an increase in the engagement of your abs (holding your upper body forward).

Lengthening your stride on downhills is a natural thing to do. But, with ChiRunning, it’s not done by reaching for more ground with your legs, but instead by allowing your pelvis to rotate and your stride to lengthen behind you. This allows you to do two things: 1. you run in a higher gear without increasing your cadence, and 2. your pelvic rotation swings your legs to the rear, keeping your knees and quads safe from too much impact from the oncoming road.

Steeper Downhills: As the hill gets steeper, you might feel the need to “put on the brakes” to keep your speed in control. In this case, you’ll need to back off your lean to regulate your speed. Your stride will shorten and your cadence will increase as the hill gets steeper. The best way to reduce the impact on steep downhills is to relax your whole body, bring your posture to an upright position, shorten your stride, and pick up your feet as they hit the ground (instead of coming down onto your foot strike with all of your weight). This method of running steep downhills breaks all the ChiRunning rules for running on flats and easy hills, so check out our Hills & Trails DVD to master it safely.

See the basics of downhill running in action: 

Master the complete hill technique with the Hills & Trails DVD!

Posted in Technique

Related Articles