3 Strength Training Exercises for Trail Runners
Editor’s Note: This post is written by guest contributor, Holly Martin, and has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Minneapolis Running.
Don’t let the rocks win! Trail runners encounter roots, rocks, logs, tree stumps, plants, you name it. Because we can’t avoid these obstacles, we need to work around them, which can put our bodies in unfamiliar, and often vulnerable positions if we’re not prepared.
In this post, The Run Experience shares three of our favorite strength exercises for trail runners, that focus on leg and hip stability, ankle strength, and hip mobility. These exercises will help train your body to be ready for anything and allow you to trail run injury-free.
Related: Trail Running 101
Strength Training For Trail Runners: Step Up
The first of our favorite strength exercises is a step up. This is a simple exercise where we just step up onto a box or any sturdy platform one foot at a time.
Step ups build glute strength, knee stability, and hip stability when done correctly.
Even though the movement is simple, form still matters! Be careful that your knee is not falling inward while you step up, or even when you step down.
We want to avoid this because it indicates that we’ve lost control of our knee while working other muscle groups. This is, clearly, a bad habit to get into for trail runners, so we want to make sure our knee is right over our ankle at all times on the step up.
The other form component to think about is not letting that knee go too far forward. This exercise is largely intended to build glute strength, but it can become a quad-dominant movement if we’re sending our weight too far forward over the front foot.
So be sure to keep the weight toward the back of your front foot, and allow the glutes to do the work here.
To make step ups more challenging, increase the height of the box, or hold weights in your hands. The movement doesn’t change, these variations just really put your form and strength to the test.
As a good starting point, try 3 sets of 10 step ups on each leg. Work this into your strength routine somewhere, and add height or weight as needed.
Strength Training For Trail Runners: Single Leg Hop
The second exercise we love for trail running strength is a single leg hop - pretty self-explanatory! We’re just hopping up and down on one leg.
We love single leg hops because they target ankle strength, which is crucial for trail runners. Because we’re encountering nature’s obstacles on our runs, we need strong and stable ankles to move through and around them without getting injured.
Again, we want to focus on not letting our knee fall inward here as we land the hop. This lack of control transfers right down to our ankle and often invites it to collapse as well.
Instead of counting reps on this exercise, try just going for 1 minute on each leg to get a good burn going. From there, add sets of 1 minute on both sides as needed.
For an added challenge, feel free to hold weights in your hands while you do this exercise. It’s going to feel quite different with weight, so be sure to maintain proper hop mechanics while that lower leg is working hard.
Strength Training For Trail Runners: Side Squat
The third and final strength training exercise we love for trail runners is the side squat, which is great for mobility.
Because trail running is so unpredictable, it’s important to be as strong and as mobile as possible, so that our body isn’t surprised when we deviate from traditional, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other running.
In short - trail runners need to be flexible, in every sense of the word.
For this movement, start standing with your feet wide apart. From there, one leg stays totally straight while the other starts to bend, causing you to squat down on the bent leg side. Let your hips sink down as low as is comfortable.
It’s natural to feel like you’re falling backward in this movement, so grab a weight plate and hold it out in front of you to combat that feeling if necessary. It doesn’t make the squat harder, it just allows you to go deeper without falling back.
Form note: this is a variation on a traditional squat, so be sure your squatting foot stays flat on the ground. In addition, be sure your squatting knee presses outward over your squatting foot.
As you approach your lowest point and start to feel that maximum stretch in your adductor or inner thigh, allow the other foot to flex up toward the ceiling. The squatting foot will stay flat on the ground, while the straight-legged foot will flex up toward the ceiling.
To start, try 8 reps on each side, holding a few seconds at the bottom, and moving slowly to figure out your balance and range of motion.
Try working these three exercises into your strength training workout and practicing that routine once or twice a week. They’re going to greatly improve your stability, which is crucial on trail runs.
Stabilizing those key muscle groups and expanding your range of motion through mobility exercises like the last one, will ensure there are no surprises come race day, because your body is ready for anything!
About The Author
Holly Martin is a San Francisco-based running coach and personal trainer. With a 20+ year background in dance, Holly brings a strong focus on technique and mobility to all of her coaching. Currently, she trains clients at Midline Training and Nfinite Strength and coaches online with The Run Experience, an online training community for running programs and workouts.