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The 3 BEST Exercises to Strengthen Your Quads for Downhill Running

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

What's the WORSE part about the day AFTER your marathon?

Especially post-Boston.

GOING DOWN THE STAIRS.


While we love to hate on steep climbs and hill workouts in general, it's never the uphill that actually gets you.


Sure, in the moment it can absolutely suck.

And you might be questioning all your life decisions.

But you're able to bribe yourself with the relief of cresting that monstrous hills and gliding downhill where you make up for literal lost time.


But there lies the rub.

That down hill will get you every time.

It feels easy, but NOT training for downhills is where a lot of runners (literally) run into trouble.


REAL FAST:

Running UP hill requires concentric strength. (think basic bicep curl for a gun show)

Running DOWN hill requires a different kind of strength: eccentric strength. (think relaxing your bicep to put the weight down on the ground or rack).


Your quad does the same thing. But on a much larger scale because of the force of your entire body is behind it.


THE SOLUTION?

You need STRENGTH EXERCISES to prepare your quads to run down hill. And I've got a 10min circuit of 3 exercises waiting for you :)


(ability to walk down the stairs post marathon without waddling still NOTgaurenteed ;) lol)


Let's dive in!


Exercises to Strength Your Quads for Running Down Hill

Circuit:

3 sets each // medium-heavy weight


Wall push with high knee pumps and knee kicks

  • to fatigue, R and L side (no weight here)

Controlled Runner's stance step up and step down

  • 12 each side unweight OR 8-10 ea side if weighted

Bulgarian Split Squat Plyo

  • 8 Reps each side

How Eccentric Exercises Strengthen Your Quads for Down Hill Running


Wall Push with high knee pumps and knee kicks

  • I know what you're thinking: these look absolutely ridiculous. But what if I told you they were going to make your split squat plyos that much easier?

  • THE "MAGIC" behind these coupled exercises: these are very much more about neuromuscular control (mind-muscle connection) and activating your fast twitch muscle fibers and preparing you for explosive motions (like the plyo coming up)

  • Very short story: I tested this theory out while I was filming these actually. I did 6 reps each leg of the bulgarian split squat plyo once WITHOUT doing this little activating exericse and then 6 reps again AFTER I did this activating exercise. It was crazy how much easier the plyos felt the second round. It blew my mind. Do yourself a favor and make it easy.

Controlled Runner's stance step up and step down

  • Yes, these can be considered a simple step up with or without weight. HOWEVER... with a normal step up, you would typically load it up heavy.

  • Wh this one, I would suggest you choose a higher box and SLOW IT DOWN.

  • This exercise is about slow STABILITY AND CONTROL through the entire step up AND (more importantly) the step DOWN. This is a crucial part of running: you need to be able to control the power and speed you produce. If you can't, you have not earned the right to run fast and this is where and how injuries happen. (I said what I said.)

Bulgarian Split Squat Plyo

  • I already know you're thinking about skipping these. DON'T. (I'll tell you my disaster story below...)

  • If you've never done these before, don't feel your "hop" has to be huge. And it's ok to feel unstable and even a little out of breath with these.

  • These are incredibly useful for not just training your quads to produce power, helping create elasticity in your achilles and patellar tendons keeping your connective tissues healthy, but they also do a fantastic job at training single leg stability, specifically the coming back DOWN back to earth part (aka, every single stride you take).

  • these have had an unreal impact on my running.


HOW I STOPPED HAVING KNEE PAIN WITH DOWN HILL RUNNING


Down hill running.

Too many miles on concrete.

Too much mileage too soon...
you name it.

All of these flared up my right knee to some extent with a dull, but persistent achyness sometimes right below the knee cap and sometimes underneath the knee cap that worsened with immediate contact of my foot driving into the ground.

Not pleasant and it cost me days and miles.


I got diligent with strength work.
and it helped a little.

I tried new shoes.

Meh, sorta helped.


Did a gait analysis on myself.

Blamed my right foot because it's as flat as a pancake.


It wasn't until I FINALLY got serious and got out of my own way.


I needed to deliberately and intentionally develope eccentric quad strength and work on plyometrics, programming these corresponding exercises regularly into my weekly strength workouts...

that I started to add on the miles without one compliant out of my knee.


It wasn't an earth shattering "OH MY GOSH it's working!" moment.

It was a lot of "ugh I hate these split squat plyos" days.

But these directly translated into "wow that was an amazing long run!" day.


THE POINT: don't short yourself.

Don't back out of just 3 exercises because they look gross, they're hard, whatever.

Take your time with them.

Modify them as you need to.

Your best runs are on the other side of your hardest lifts (or plyos in this case haha).


And if you're loving this circuit and my other strength circuits, you're going to love my 16-week strength program for busy runners coming soon!
  • The program is all about quick, effective strength circuits that fit into your half or full marathon training plan.

  • the best part?

  • The exercises LOOK like running so your strength gains directly translate into easier, faster, stronger runs without an injury in sight.

  • (and...I think because the strength exercises look like running, they're so much more fun haha.)

Until next time running fit fam...


Dare to Train Differently,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit


P.S Want to try out more of my stuff? grab your FREE STRENGTH GUIDE for Runners here :)

 

REFERENCES:


Correlation of Eccentric Strength, Reactive Strength, and Leg Stiffness With Running Economy in Well-Trained Distance Runners

Fei Li, Robert U. Newton, Yue Shi, David Sutton, and Haiyong Ding

DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003446



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2 Comments


Well done! Very informative, and the video, voiceover and the music had positive energy without being overbearing. I think you have found the magic formula!

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Marie Whitt
Marie Whitt
Sep 25, 2023
Replying to

Thank you so much, Paul! I can't say thank you enough for nudging me in the right direction :)

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