You’ve run through all the streets of your city. Perhaps your feet are tired of hitting the same pavement. If you’re looking to change your workout routine, it may be time to switch from road running to trail running. There are so many wonderful and unique things to see while running through local trails. But before you step out and complete your first trail run, there are a few important factors to consider. We spoke to Dr. Alice Holland, physical therapist and director of Stride Strong Physical Therapy, a company that specializes in running rehab and mechanics, about the necessary steps to take when deciding to bring your run to the trails. Read on to find out the best way to switch to trail running, avoid injury, and make the most of your workout.
Invest in a good pair of trail running shoes.
Unlike road and pavement, running on trails comes with an element of surprise, as you may experience unseen circumstances on your running path. For example, the grounds could be wet from last night’s rainfall and cause the ground to be muddy and slippery. Or, perhaps the wind carried over debris from neighboring trees causing ground discrepancies. There are always many occurrences that can happen when you throw in the mother nature element. One way to handle the surprising elements is investing in a good pair of trail running shoes. According to Dr. Holland, “Having good grip in your shoes would greatly affect your efficiency in running, and [your] risk of injuries and sprains.” While some may think wearing the appropriate shoes isn’t a huge deal, Dr. Holland says that having good shoes makes a huge difference on the varying terrains, and helps compensate for the moisture in the ground.
Practice your balance.
Off of your outdoor running route, try different balancing techniques and exercises that you can apply to your trail runs. An exercise that Dr. Holland suggests includes starting with a single leg balance challenge on the flat side of a Bosu ball. As you progress further to a single leg balance, try moving and reaching the opposite arm to the balancing foot. Apply these movements to both sides. “Practicing balancing maneuvers will challenge the muscles of your lower leg, and thereby train you better for trail terrains that [are] wrought with tree roots and mounds,” says Dr. Holland.
Work on your core.
A good amount of trail running involves switching directions with sharp curves or bends, also referred to as switchbacks. In order to navigate these obstacles with good speed, it’s important to train your core, which also includes your gluteal muscle group. Strengthening these muscles and practicing drills that change lateral directions will strengthen your body for trail running. The Aaptiv app offers many core strengthening sessions to help you make your smooth transition to trail running.
Vary your running cants.
Running cants are referred to as the rate of change that occurs in the elevation of the ground. “If you are used to road running, it is likely [that] the cants that you are familiar with are less severe and dramatic than trail running,” says Dr. Holland. “Although large, long hills are not typically seen in trail running, the cant may go up and down quite often. So if you are particularly weak with downhill [running], uphill running, or both, then it’s time to start getting used to changes and begin training for the new terrain.” Before heading out on the trails, there are several indoor exercises and treadmill exercises to practice beforehand. Learn how your body does with elevation and adapting to your running techniques.
“Safety is always an issue with trail running,” according to Dr. Holland. “If you are going at it alone, be sure to pack pepper spray in your pocket or running belt.” It’s also important to make sure that you have some sort of ID on you for emergencies, as well as emergency contact information. Something that trail runners encounter (but road runners rarely do) are animals and bugs. Make sure that you spray on mosquito repellent and be aware of your surroundings while running. Dr. Holland once had a patient who was attacked by yellow jackets while on a run. Because of the situations and circumstances that can happen during a trail run, it’s also important to carry a cell phone with you at all times.
Now that you’ve learned five different safety and training protocols to consider before heading out on your first trail run, it’s time to go outside and enjoy the dirt underneath your feet. Share your experiences with us about your first trail run, as well as any additional advice that helped you along the way.