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blog Cross Training for Trail Running

Cross Training for Trail Running

Sean Lake

almost 2 years ago

There are few better ways to enjoy nature than on a trail, but hiking isn’t the only way to get off the beaten path. Trail running is running off the paved road. It is a great way to get a workout while also clearing your mind in nature, and, if you find a group, building community. Because trail running is not on a paved surface or treadmill, your body needs to be prepared to handle the inconsistencies of terrain. One way of preparing your body is through cross-training. Cross-training is important for all runners as it mitigates some of the stress on joints due to repetitive motions. While trail running often has a lower impact than running due to unpaved surfaces, it comes with its own set of challenges. Getting your body into shape will help you be ready to conquer whatever road lies ahead.

What is cross-training?

Cross-training is generally defined as exercise that uses forms of training outside of an athlete’s main sport. Cross-training typically includes some form of aerobic exercise and plyometric exercise. The benefits of cross-training, especially for runners, include:

  • Injury prevention

  • Recovery

  • Strength

  • Flexibility

Cross-training is not limited to trail runners–most runners engage in some form of cross-training, especially when preparing for a race. Most running injuries are due to overuse or increasing intensity too quickly, so incorporating some form of cross-training, like this morning workout, in your running protocol can decrease your risk for those injuries.

Cross-training is also a great way of staying motivated in your sport–sometimes, training can become repetitive, so incorporating variety into your routine can keep you from getting bored.

Train for terrain, not distance

Most runners are used to training for races based on distance, whether that’s a quick 5k or a marathon. Their workouts are based on the distance they want their body acclimated to at a pace that is initially easy but then fast. Trail runners cannot train for distance the way traditional runners can because the variations between trails are too different, especially between races. Some trails are more technical–with sudden turns and steep inclines and declines. Others are more gentle, with soft rolling hills. Since you can’t always predict what your feet will face when you try a new trail, it’s best for your body to be prepared.

The importance of mobility

Mobility refers to how efficiently your body can move through space. Having good mobility is important for trail running because you will be less likely to stumble and fall over unexpected obstacles in your path and withstand the challenge of changing elevations. Emphasizing mobility in your workouts, particularly in your feet, ankles, and hips, will help your body be prepared.

Exercises for balance

One of the biggest dangers trail runners face is losing their balance. Trail runners need to be able to keep their balance as they run across rocky trails or slippery mud paths. This requires them to always be looking a few steps ahead so that their brain is ready for changes in the trail, and their feet can fall where they need to fall. This sense of balance and awareness of where you are in space is known as proprioception. You can heighten this sense with balance and agility exercises performed at home, outside, or in the gym. A few great exercises that test balance include:

  • Single leg balance

  • Single leg half squats

  • Speed skaters

  • Balance swan dives

Yoga and dance and barre classes may also help you use your balance while also having a fun workout.

Keep the core strong

Having a strong core gives stability to your legs while you run so that you are less prone to wobbling or slipping. It also improves your balance, which is essential on the trail, and helps the muscles in your lower back and hips work together more efficiently. A strong core also helps you maintain good posture, even at the end of your run when you are getting tired. Make sure you are incorporating core exercises in your cross-training, whether that’s through simple ab exercise (planks, leg lifts, etc) or fitness routines such as pilates and yoga.

Stability and control in the knees

Some trails feature changes in elevation, and these slopes can be tough on your knees, especially on the way down as you stabilize yourself. Strengthening muscles in the thighs can help them maintain stability and control as you run.

Here are a few simple exercises that tone thighs:

  • Standing hamstring curls

  • Wall squats

  • Straight leg raises

You can also gain control in your knees by maintaining flexibility and core strength.


Good posture is important for everyday life, but it also helps your running form which is essential for trail running. You can alleviate unnecessary strain, especially on your shoulders and back, by practicing good posture in everyday life and when you walk and run.

You can practice good posture with the following:

  • High plank

  • Chest openers

  • Yoga

Improving posture will not only minimize problems running; you may also notice less pain throughout your day. Pay attention to your posture at work, especially when you are seated at a computer and readjust periodically throughout the day.

The benefits of trail running

Trail running is a great sport for people who love hiking but want to cover a little more ground. Just like cross-training can improve balance, posture, and strength to make you a better trail runner, trail running enhances these skills too. As you cover different kinds of ground, your body will adapt as you use different muscles and incorporate balance and agility in your running. As you get into the wild on your trail runs, you want to be sure you are giving your body what it needs to recover and keep your joints healthy and strong. Like any sport, running can wear on your body, especially on the connective tissue that helps your joints work smoothly. Luckily, studies have found that collagen peptide supplements such as BUBS Naturals can help your body produce the collagen it needs to improve joint health and pain, even in old age. We have partnered with the American Trail Running Association to encourage people to enjoy the benefits of trail running while keeping their joints healthy!