Trail Running = Bonus Points for Your Body
Think of trail running as road running amplified.
Like all running, trail running increases muscular strength and endurance in your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes, in addition to giving your heart and lungs a workout. But because the trails serve up an unpredictable, rocky, root-filled terrain of hills, streams and other natural obstacles, trail running improves your proprioception (your sense of balance and where your body is in space). It also taps nearly every muscle from your shoulders on down, and builds strength in your joints. As a result, it provides a challenging whole-body workout.
Build Balance. As you trot down a rocky, winding, single-track path, you have to constantly be aware of where each foot is landing and how it will affect your body position: Stepping on a rock that’s 10 inches tall with your right foot means your left leg will need to absorb significant impact upon landing (and be super stable) to keep your pace going.
Those constant adjustments are beneficial. Stabilizing yourself with nearly every step requires you to use more muscle fiber — and consequently burn more calories — than when you run on a treadmill or even on a road.
Hit the Trails
Sold on the idea of trail running? Before you lope down your local trail, here are just a few things to consider...
You can go trail running on virtually any surface that isn’t paved, but dirt roads and gravel paths provide the most beginner-friendly terrain. Ask at a local running store for recommendations.
If you opt to run solo, be sure you know your route, carry an ID, and tell somebody where you’ll be and when you expect to return. Be sure to bring enough water.
Start slow. Because of the varying terrain, your pace per mile will be at least 45 seconds slower on the trail than it is on paved roads; it may be much slower still, depending on how hilly it is. As such, run for time, not mileage.
Keep your stride short to maintain a rhythmic pace, and lift your toes to stay nimble on your feet, advises Marin County, Calif.–based outdoor trainer Tina Vindum, a nationally recognized developer of outdoor fitness programs.
When you climb, lean into the hill slightly, use your arm swing for power, and keep your weight on the balls of your feet. As you descend, keep your hands in your peripheral vision, which prompts you to lean slightly forward — a good thing.
And don’t worry if you end up with a little dirt on your hands or scratches on your knees. “Everybody falls once,” Vindum says. “It’s virtually a given.” Soon, though, you’ll be flying through fields and over terrain you previously thought fit only for a mountain goat — and reaping all the benefits trail running has to offer.
NOTE: This is an exerpt from an article written by Dimity McDowell. Tina Vindum was a contributor.