How to Become a Better Trail Runner

Trail running is a wonderful way to explore the world. Instead of dealing with the stress of traffic, crowded sidewalks, and never-ending concrete, you can experience the power of nature during your run.

Even though trail running can be more fun and less stressful than road running, it also has a host of physical benefits that can help improve your race times. Running on uneven surfaces can increase your balance and proprioception, or your body's awareness of where you are in space, as you scale hills, dodge roots and rocks, and conquer the terrain.

More: How to Overcome Your Trail Running Fears

These obstacles force your body to use stability muscles that are often ignored on the road. All this variation reduces the repetitive nature of running and can help you avoid problems like an IT band injury that you might encounter if you ran solely on smooth surfaces like sidewalks or roads.

But that doesn't mean trail running is without risks. The very elements of trail running like sharp turns, uneven terrain, elevation changes and rocky surfaces present injury risks if you trip or fall.

More: 15 Technical Tips for the Trail

Strength Work for Trail Runners

Developing the athleticism to conquer these obstacles is critical to success on the trails. Sound trail running fitness is a combination of strength, coordination and agility. You can develop these skills without ever running on a technical trail.

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By focusing on specific exercises and drills that improve your balance and strength, you can be prepared for your first trail run. Perform this set of exercises twice a week to train for the trails:

  • Pistol Squats: These are one-legged squats. With your right foot on the ground, squat down so your right thigh is about parallel with the ground. Remember not to lean forward. Keep the motion slow and controlled, and make sure your knee does not collapse inward. Do 5 to 10 reps per leg. 

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