Why Is It Harder to Walk Uphill than Downhill?
It is harder to walk uphill than downhill because you must lift the weight of your body and to do this requires greater energy than that needed for walking on the level. To create this greater energy your muscles require giving extra lift, your heart has more work to do to feed the blood cells and remove the carbon dioxide from your heart and replenish it with oxygen. That is why the steeper the climb and the more concentrated the effort, the more quickly you breathe. If you are out of condition you start to “pant” to gulp in extra oxygen. In comparison to the energy necessary for walking on a horizontal plain, the total value of the extra energy needed for climbing is the height you are to reach.
The steeper the incline of the hill, the quicker you use this extra energy. It is therefore harder for you to walk up a steep hill than a gentle one, although the energy used up in either case, where the height to be reached is the same or is identical. When you walk downhill, very little energy is needed because the weight of your body carries you down the slope. Of course, this is the pull of gravity that is helping you down, in the same way that you have to overcome the force of gravity when you walk up a steep hill.
Is Running Uphill Harder or Easier than Running Downhill?
Running downhill is more physically demanding, as your body is doing more to resist the force of gravity. Running uphill in itself is not more demanding unless you have a tendency to try to sprint uphill. In fact, if you close your eyes while running uphill, you can easily convince yourself that you are running on a flat plane. Running downhill requires rapid feet, and shorter than normal strides – specifically so you DON’T catch yourself. Think of a 500 pound stone falling towards your head.
You wouldn’t try to catch it, instead you should just try to flick it to the side (and slide your body the other way). When running downhill, this is exactly what’s happening. A huge stone (the Earth) is coming at you quickly, and you can’t stop it. So instead, with a quick foot movement you flick it behind you, and slide your body forward.
This takes practice, guts, and more practice! But, it’s faster, and MUCH easier than over striding, slamming your heels down, and constantly trying to stop gravity from pulling you down the hill. Don’t try this for the first time in a race, especially not a trail race, as you need to learn the footwork to be safe, and to control the inevitable adrenaline rush as you realize you’re one misstep away from eating it!