Reasons to ditch the road and head out on the trails.

While running on the road can be a convenient way to get your workout in, running on the trails can make you a healthier runner in the long term.

Terrain

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Muscular anatomy of the lower leg. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Trail running provides uneven terrain that forces runners to use muscles not used when running on flat roads.  When you trail run, your feet turn and twist to mold to the imperfections in the trail.  By running over rocks and roots, your body is forced to use leg muscles like the peroneus longus and extensor digitorum, which are two muscles on the outside of your leg that are rarely used on the roads.  By trail running, you indirectly strengthen these muscles and protect yourself from sidelining injuries that occur from muscle weaknesses and imbalances. You can protect yourself from running injuries by running. That’s pretty awesome!

 

Hills

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Diagram of the quad muscles on the front of the leg. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Another feature of trail running that leads to running longevity is the fact that trail running typically involves elevation gain.  By running up and down steep hills, runners engage certain leg muscles more than when running the flats.  When running the dreaded uphills, you heavily increase the use of your vastus muscles (better known as your quads) and your gluteus (butt) muscles.  Many injuries such as the dreaded iliotibial band syndrome occur from weak gluteus muscles.  So instead of going to the gym next time to do squats, why not find some trails with a lot of elevation gain and run instead to get that butt workout in?  Injury prevention aside, the strengthening of these muscles from trail running can lead to faster times for your next race.

 

Better Workout

Due to the hilly nature of trail running, you typically get a better workout from running on the trails.  As shown in this article, the increase in muscle activation from running up hills causes a large oxygen deficit.  An oxygen deficit in the body forces your heart rate to increase in order to pump more oxygenated blood to your hard working muscles.  Just like any aerobic training, your body adapts to this harder training as your heart gets stronger, improving your overall aerobic ability.  For more detail on this, check out my other blog post on aerobic capacity.  Even if you only run road races, your race times could benefit from a trail run now and then.

 

Basically, trail running can benefit you in a lot of ways.  If these reasons aren’t enough, check out this previous post about trail running and mental health improvement. There is a lot to be gained from hitting the trails.  Ignoring physiological benefits, there is a lot of natural beauty in the world and what better way to explore than running?!  See you out on the trails.