As trail running increases in popularity, more and more runners are looking for ways to improve their performance on the challenging terrains they encounter. One important question that many athletes ask is what exercises improve trail running? In this article, we will discuss a variety of exercises that can help trail runners become faster, stronger, and more confident on the trails.
What Exercises Improve Trail Running: Building Strength and Stability
Trail running demands much more from the body than road running, making it essential for trail runners to develop a comprehensive workout routine that targets specific areas of the body. Here are some exercises that focus on different muscle groups and can help improve trail running performance.
A strong core is vital for maintaining stability on the uneven terrain that trail runners often face. Some great core exercises to include in your training plan are:
Planks: This exercise works the entire core, including the lower back and hip flexors. Start in a push-up position with your elbows bent and resting on the floor, and hold your body in a straight line for as long as possible.
Deadbugs: Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, extend your arms toward the ceiling. Slowly lower your left arm and right leg to the floor, then return to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg for a complete repetition.
Russian twists: Sit on the ground with your knees bent and feet shoulder width apart. Hold a weight or medicine ball in both hands, and twist your torso to touch the weight to the ground on one side, then the other.
Upper body strength
Having strong upper body muscles can help with steep climbs and injury prevention in trail running. Some key upper body exercises are:
Push-ups: Standard push-ups are great for targeting the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Pull-ups: These can help build both upper body and grip strength, which are essential for navigating technical terrain.
Rows: Using a resistance band or dumbbells, perform bent-over rows to target the muscles in your upper back and shoulders. This exercise can help improve posture, which in turn boosts running efficiency.
Lower body strength and balance
Strong legs are a must for trail runners, but having good balance is just as important. Here are some exercises that can help with both:
Bulgarian split squats: With your left foot resting on a bench or box behind you, hop your front foot forward. Lower your hips toward the ground, keeping your front knee tracking over the front foot. Push through the front leg to return to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions before switching to the back leg.
Single leg deadlifts: Stand on one leg with a kettlebell or dumbbell in the opposite hand. Hinge at your hips, allowing the weight to lower toward the ground while keeping your back straight. Return to the starting position, keeping your balance on the one leg.
Step-ups: Find a box or bench at knee height or slightly lower. Start standing with one foot on the box and the other on the ground. Push through the front leg to step up onto the box, then step back down. Repeat for desired repetitions before switching legs.
Ankle stability and mobility
Trail runners often encounter uneven ground that can put strain on the ankles. Incorporating exercises to improve ankle stability and mobility is pivotal for injury prevention. Examples include:
Calf raises: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly rise up onto your toes, focusing on contracting your calf muscles. Lower back down and repeat.
Ankle circles: Sit or stand and lift one leg off the ground. Draw circles in the air with your toes, both clockwise and counterclockwise, for ankle mobility.
Balance exercises: Standing on one leg, practice balancing for as long as possible. For added challenge, close your eyes while balancing or stand on an unstable surface, like a folded yoga mat.
These dynamic movements can help increase running speed, power, and efficiency, which are all critical for success on the trails. Some plyometric exercises for trail runners include:
Box jumps: Find a sturdy box or platform at a comfortable height. Start with both feet on the ground and jump up onto the box, landing softly with your knees slightly bent. Step back down and repeat.
Jump lunges: Start in a lunge position with your right knee in front and left knee hovering just above the ground. Jump into the air, switching your legs positions in mid-air, and land with your left foot in front and right knee hovering above the ground. Continue alternating lunges in a jump motion.
Skipping: Aim for maximum height and distance with each skip, as this exercise mimics the need for a powerful push-off while running on uneven terrain.
Adding these targeted exercises to your training plan can significantly impact your trail running performance and help you become a stronger runner. Not only will these exercises improve strength, balance, and stability, but they will also help with injury prevention and contribute to your overall enjoyment on race day. So lace up your trail shoes, hit the trails, and enjoy the rewards that come from focusing on what exercises improve trail running.