Trail running is a great way to add a new dimension to your training. It’s also noticeably different from park, track, treadmill or road running, so you’ll need to prepare yourself or you might find it tough going, at least at first.
Generally speaking, most of the effort in running is focused on simply moving forward. There may be slight variations in incline but, on the whole, most of the steps you take will be the same – flat and even.
A NEW WAY TO RUN
Trail running is completely different. On some routes the terrain will be so uneven that every step is different. This means you have to be mentally more alert, and physically more agile, to stay upright and keep moving in the right direction. Follow our simple tips and you’ll be ready to hit the trails with confidence.
01. Get off the beaten track. Begin attuning your body to trail running by adding sections of varied terrain to your regular runs. You can do this by heading onto the grass if you run through parks, cutting through fields or seeking out some gravel paths. If the terrain in your area doesn’t vary, include some hills in your road running or inclines in your treadmill training. Anything you can do to move away from continuous flat running will help when you start trail running.
02. Resistance training will prepare your body – your legs, in particular – for working harder. Include body-weight squats, lunges, calf raises, wide squats and rear lunges to begin with, and add progressively heavier dumbbells to these exercises.
03. To improve your agility and balance, include some plyometric (dynamic) exercises in your routine. Squat jumps, lunge jumps, bunny hops, ski jumps and clock lunges will all help strengthen the stability muscles of your knees, hips and ankles, and will also promote strength and elasticity in these areas, which will enable you to cope with rough terrain and avoid injury.
04. Your ability to manoeuvre quickly and respond to challenging conditions will also be improved if you strengthen your core area. You can do this with an abdominal routine that includes traditional exercises such as the plank, crunches and reverse crunches, but also features a selection of other resistance exercises that target your whole body and that are completed on an unstable surface. You can achieve this by using a stability ball or a wobble board to sit or stand on while you exercise.
05. Make sure you don’t focus solely on training your lower body. Strength and stability in your upper half will help you stay upright and maintain power when you’re running over rough or undulating terrain.
06. Training one leg or arm at a time forces the body to work harder, improving overall strength and balance, so make sure you include some single-leg squats and lunges, as well as one-armed shoulder presses, bench presses and rows in your routine. But make sure you perform an even number of repetitions on each side.
07. Include plenty of cross training in your exercise program. If your body is used to cycling, swimming, stepping, circuit training and a variety of exercise classes, you’ll adapt to trail running more effectively than if your routine usually consists of running, running and even more running.
08. Stretching thoroughly after every workout will limit any aches and pains you may (and probably will) feel after your first trail runs. The more supple you are, the less your muscles will tighten up when you change your running environment.
09. Trail running may feel tough at first, so prepare yourself by increasing the intensity of some of your workouts leading up to your first full trail outing. The more you push yourself, the easier it will be to tolerate the extra effort required on the trails.
Trail running can be challenging but the rewards are great: you’ll be fitter, you’ll have new places to run and even your usual road routes will seem fresh again.
Words by Jeff Archer