Downhill Athlete: pain in quads after descents

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  • #3204
    Mariner_9
    Participant

    I find that when I go hiking, I get pain in my quads after descending (typically 1000-2000 meters). I think this is because my quads are acting as shock absorbers when descending, even when using trekking poles. Are there ways to train your quads to avoid or at least reduce the pain? Or should I just learn how to paraglide? : )

Posted In: Mountain Running

  • Moderator
    Scott Semple on #3213

    Does the pain feel like an injury-type pain? Or is it Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) similar to the feeling the day after a hard strength workout?

    If the former, I’d get it checked out by a doctor or physio.

    If the latter, it sounds normal. I’ve heard that impact forces when running downhill can exceed 7x bodyweight, plus the load is absorbed eccentrically (while the muscle lengthens), so it can be a huge load on the quads.

    I usually have sore quads if I haven’t been doing any downhill running and then start up again. It usually takes me two or three spaced outings to stop the sore quads feeling. Easing into it seems to work the best: an intentional super-easy decent to start with, building it up slowly over subsequent outings, and then consistent downhill running (at least once a week).

    Hope that helps.

    Participant
    cjohnson86 on #3217

    800mg of Ibuprofen right before you come down will clear that right up ;p

    Participant
    Mariner_9 on #3222

    Thank you both for your replies.

    The pain is DOMS rather than an injury. That said, it is different – and worse! – than doing hard strength training (e.g. of the kind recommended in TFTNA). By worse I mean both more acute and longer lasting.

    I’m currently reading a book on ultra-running (“Relentless Forward Progress”) which talks about descents. “When running downhill, your quad muscles work differently than during flat or uphill running. They lengthen as they contract in what is known as eccentric contraction. You must specifically train your muscles to perform these eccentric contractions and the best way to do so [is] by running downhill. … Technical terrain [i.e. trail rather than road] forces you to brake, shift weight and alter your stride length, all of which enhance the eccentric contractions. … The longer the downhill, the better, because as you fatigue, you work your muscles differently.”

    Participant
    scramblineer on #3274

    Generally pain in quads from descending has been from trying to break whilst running down…the more you do it the more accustomed you become and also descending technique improves meaning less breaking force via the quads…at least that’s my experience!
    That said if you run hard enough downhill there will always be a degree of sorness.
    Walking down uses the quads more for breaking than running down(easy running). Imagine letting your leg fold under you as the foot strikes before the load reaches your quad. As one leg folds the next strikes and begins to fold…you’re not trying to change the forces on your body just falling smoothly downhill.

    Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #3276

    Mariner 9, You have hit on your own answer. Eccentric loading places much higher forces on on the muscles than concentric loading. That is why “negative” have been so popular among strength athletes for so long. Essentially you are doing negatives with each step as you go down hill, whether running or hiking. If you are hiking I suspect you are carrying a pack which only increases the forces. To train this type of strength you can do more down hill hiking but in smaller doses so that the DOMS does not keep you too sore to train the same way a couple of days later. Another option is to do weighted step downs. Simply step off an elevated platform and perform a slow lower till you can touch the opposite heel then back up. The weight you use will be up to you to determine. But emphasize the slow lower as this is the eccentric phase and where the loads an be highest. In an ideal set up the load would be so high that you’d need to have assistance getting both feel back up on the platform. However even this less than ideal method has worked well for us.
    Scott Johnston

    Participant
    Mariner_9 on #3327

    Thanks to everyone for the suggestions.

    Participant
    Mariner_9 on #4583

    Did 2300m ascent/descent on Saturday and had no DOMS, just some mild pain in my knees which I addressed with NSAID cream and quickly disappeared.

    Currently in my Max Strength phase and Z1/Z2 workouts in the Transition Period and Base Period to-date have involved doing stair climbs (c. 600-1200m per session so far). This seems to have helped with the issue (DOMS) that I originally raised.

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