Strength Exercises to Make You a Better Trail Runner
Are you a road runner eager to discover the joys of trail running? But have years of plodding pavements left you feeling unprepared for unleashing your inner wild child?
While trail running does challenge the body in different ways than road running, there’s no reason for you to sit out. Adding just a few strength exercises to your routine will have your body ready to (safely) roar in no time. And, don’t worry, you don’t need fancy equipment or heaps of time. These exercises are quick, easy and convenient.
Roads vs. Trails: What Each Requires from Your Body
But before we get to the workouts, just a quick recap of how road running and trail running challenge our bodies in different ways. While long-distance road running challenges us in terms of both mental and physical endurance, a few additional factors come into play when it comes to trail running. In order to conquer the undulating, uneven terrain associated with trails, trail runners not only need mental and physical endurance, but strength, stability and balance too.
So, in order to prepare your body for the rigors of trail running, and to turn yourself into a better, more efficient trail runner, it’s important to work on areas that might have been neglected through years of pounding pavements. And, as promised, there’s a workout to suit everyone, irrespective of the time and equipment at your disposal. Simply find the routine best suited to your lifestyle, and get it done!
1. 5-Minute body weight- and stair circuit
If you’re short on both time and home gym equipment, then this is the workout for you. This routine, put together by two-time USATF national trail champion, David Roche, requires only body weight and a short flight of stairs. That’s it. But don’t be fooled by its simplicity. Roche swears by its effectiveness.
The workout also comes with a word of warning: It will leave you sore for a day or two. So best ease into it, paying attention to proper form, and remember to back off if you experience any knee pain. Try to do this routine twice a week, and best schedule it for days when you don’t have a long run or strenuous workout scheduled for the next day.
Here it is:
- Do alternating forward lunges for 30 seconds.
- Immediately move on to alternating rear lunges for 30 seconds.
- Rest for 30 seconds, shaking your legs out (and mentally preparing yourself for what’s ahead…!).
- Do 15 single-leg rear lunges on each leg, without alternating. Also, don’t let the back leg/foot touch the ground when coming upright. Instead, move straight into the next rear lunge with the same leg without touching the ground.
- Rest for 30 seconds, again shaking out the legs.
- Move to the stairs for two minutes of continuous single-leg step-ups without rest. For this exercise, place one foot on the second step of the staircase, resting the other foot on the ground. Holding on to the handrail for balance, do a step up with the front leg and immediately, but gently, let your body fall back to ground level. As soon as your back foot touches the ground, step up again and repeat for one minute on each leg. Ideally this movement should feel like a controlled, soft bounce off the ground, with the front leg doing most of the work. Your quads, hips and butt will tire quickly.
- Rest and shake out the legs.
2. 10-Minute resistance band and bosu workout
If you have a little bit more time to spare, as well as a resistance band and bosu trainer at your disposal, then try the following fun workout compiled by physical therapist Charlie Merrill. Once again, be sure to ease into it, gradually working your way up to the reps listed. Also pay careful attention to proper form throughout the exercises. If you’re unsure about your form, get a qualified professional to help.
- Alternating jumping lunges. Do three sets of 20 reps, alternating the legs with each jump lunge. This move works on the key running muscles, building power and improving stability.
- Monster walk. With a resistance band tied around your ankles, step forward and out to your right with your right leg while keeping maximum tension in the band. Next, bring your left leg in to meet your right leg before stepping out diagonally to the left. Do ten monster steps forward, ten backwards, and repeat for three sets. This exercise strengthens the glutes and stabilizes the hips.
- One-legged jump. Begin this balance-boosting exercise by standing on your right leg. Bend your right leg into a half squat, then jump diagonally over to your left. When landing on your left leg, do so into a half-squat position. Do three to five sets of 20 jumps, i.e. ten on each leg.
- Tightrope walk. With a resistance band tied around your ankles, mimic a tightrope-walking movement by lifting your right leg out to the side before putting it down in front of your left leg. Do 30 tightrope steps forward and 30 backwards, and then repeat for three sets. This exercise strengthens both the glutes and proprioceptors, thereby improving stability on the trails.
- Single-leg bosu balance. To strengthen foot- and ankle muscles, as well as proprioceptors, stand on the round, soft side of a bosu trainer. Now lift one leg up and slightly bend the standing leg, staying in this position until you lose your balance. Repeat three to five times on each leg, and add some reps with closed eyes once you feel confident.
As you can see, there really are no excuses. Only five to ten minutes of effort twice a week stand between you and improved trail running ability and performance. So what are you waiting for? Block out that time in your diary, grab your equipment (or only yourself!) and get it done. And, once again, if you’re unsure about correct form, or you feel some disconcerting niggles, make an appointment with a biokineticist to show you how it’s done. A world of trail running adventure awaits!
- Strength training for trail runners, Online publication ,
- The 5-Minute Leg Circuit for Mountain-Running Strength, Online publication ,
- 5 Workouts to Build Trail-Racing Strength, Online publication ,
- Strength training for trail runners, Online publication ,
- 3 Elite Trail Runners on Core and Strength Training, Online publication ,