If you are used to road running and you make the transition to trail running, it can feel tough. Regularly including hill training in your schedule not only gets you used to working a bit harder, but it will also improve your basic ground speed which is great preparation for maintaining a consistent rhythm over uneven and undulating terrain.
Strong legs will help you cope with whatever the trails have to throw at you, whether this is uphill, downhill, rutted ground, routes that run across the gradient of hills or a variety of natural obstacles. A strong upper body will help you balance, change direction and power you through moments when your lower body needs a bit of a boost.
ACTIVATE YOUR CORE
A strong mid-section will ensure you can roll with the punches of the toughest of trails. Pay regular attention to training your core with crunches, reverse crunches and planking, as well as some dynamic exercises with light weights and some stability exercises using a fitball.
DO SOME DRILLS
Your drills can form part of your warm up during a couple of your weekly training sessions and will include things like walking and running with short steps, heel kicks, high knee-ups, walking with an exaggerated roll from heel to toe, hopping, skipping and bounding. Moves such as these will increase the elasticity and flexibility of your lower body muscles, which will help you navigate across rough trails.
IMPROVE YOUR POSTURE
Poor posture over unpredictable terrain can leave you feeling as though it’s hard to lift your legs and may result in you feeling stooped over – which will compromise your breathing and impact your lower back. An upright position with shoulders back and eyes forward will help you position yourself accordingly and also help you to lift your knees, move your body more comfortably and reduce the risk of injury.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR FLEXIBILITY
Trail running works areas that road runs don’t reach so make sure that you stretch thoroughly (while your muscles are still warm) following each session. It’ll help you recover faster and set you up for the next run.
WORK ON YOUR AGILITY
Drills will improve your forward motion but it’s a great idea to improve your ability to move laterally as well. You never know when you’ll suddenly have to dodge stones, holes, puddles or any other natural obstacles so being able to quickly change direction and take these things in your stride will make every outing easier. Exercises such as side jumps, ski jumps, lateral hops and twisting jumps will all help with strength, balance and dynamic movement.
CHECK OUT A CIRCUIT CLASS
When out on the trails it can be tricky to find a steady rhythm and continually changing in pace and intensity can make it feel like hard work. You can prepare for this variable effort by attending classes that are based on a mixture of activities that move from one to the other quickly.
GET A SKIPPING ROPE
Skipping is a fantastic way to build up strength in your lower legs while boosting fitness. You can skip at the beginning or end of a training session or even break up your run with some regular breaks to skip. You can also combine skipping with some of your strength training workouts by punctuating each exercise with 20, 50 or 100 skips rather than pausing to rest completely.
PLAY WITH YOUR SPEED
In the same way a circuit class will help condition you in preparation for rapidly altering terrain, fartlek training will provide a close comparison with what you’ll encounter on the trails. Once a week spend some time running at a variety of different speeds for different durations to get a feel for pushing out of your comfort zone regularly and recovering while still moving at a reasonable pace.
STRENGTHEN YOUR LEGS
Strengthen the muscles around the knees, i.e. the quadriceps (front thighs). Trail surfaces may be softer than roads, but the knee takes the pressure of uneven surfaces, so the stronger your thighs the more easily the knees can cope with varied terrain. Squats or leg extension exercises will help.
As with any type of running, if you want to improve, you need to practice regularly. Aim to include trail running in your routine at least once or twice a week. It will help your fitness too.