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Downhill walking shouldn’t be underestimated – here’s why

Many of you, our H&W readers, will know that we’ve been banging the walking drum for a while now. After all, it has the power to lower the risk of depression and heart disease, while simultaneously boosting memory and alertness. Walking on an incline has also been put on a pedestal as a great form of exercise to increase your stamina and endurance, leading to a healthier body composition overall. But what about going the other direction? Here, the experts reveal just how downhill walking could be the missing link to your daily steps...


“Walking downhill is perfect for anybody wanting to build muscle, while avoiding high-intensity forms of exercise,” says Megan Mason, personal trainer and ambassador for WithU ( In fact, in Megan’s opinion, you can actually get a better workout through walking downhill as opposed to walking uphill, due to the reactions your body performs in eccentric contractions (we’ll explain later on). If you think about walking down a hill at quite a quick pace for example, you could break into a run fairly easily, so your leg muscles are recruited to prevent you from falling forward.

So downhill walking requires a lot of muscles and can even give your body the opportunity to utilise different muscles to those used walking up a hill or strolling on even ground, says personal trainer and director of Ashford Fitness Consultancy, Chris Ashford (ashfordfitnessconsultancy. com). “The physical skill and techniques used in downhill walking can actually strengthen joints and connective tissue, improve hip mobility and develop the hamstrings and calves,” he adds.


As well as your hamstrings and calves, your quadriceps and core muscles are all involved in downhill walking and other benefits include increased bone density and improved cardiovascular fitness. This is a win-win, but one potential pitfall with walking downhill is the added forces to your bones and joints causing pain and discomfort if you’re not aware of the correct technique.

Downhill walking is eccentric exercise (the opposite to walking uphill) so the muscles shorten during contraction, explains John Daly, a specialist musculoskeletal physiotherapist at Pure Sports Medicine ( “This places more stress on your muscles and connective tissues, as they go against their natural desire to contract as they shorten,” he says.

“Eccentric exercise is known to produce more delayed-onset muscle soreness, so when you aren’t accustomed to certain activities, this can translate as

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