I love trail running. It helps me gain fitness while getting outside and enjoying nature. In fact, nothing compares to the natural high of getting off the beaten path.
Despite all the positives trail running has to offer, sidestepping roots and rocks, traversing single track paths, and navigating twists and turns is no walk in the park. It’s an invitation to injury, and that’s where this article will come in handy.
I’m sharing a set of strength exercises specifically geared towards dramatically building your unilateral strength, coordination, and balance — all key factors for dominating the beaten path.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course, the best way to get good at trails is to run more and more of them. Practice, after all, makes perfect. But, as a smart runner, you shouldn’t dismiss strength training. Adding strength and power to your main running muscles both improves your power output and reduces your risk of injury for both overuse and traumatic injuries.
The best part? You don’t need a gym to perform the majority of these exercises.
Are you excited?
Here we go.
1. Single Leg Deadlifts
Single leg deadlifts target the hamstrings, glutes, and hips. They can help counter quad dominance, which is a common muscular imbalance in runners.
It also builds ankle strength and stability, which is key for preventing ankle sprains—a frequent injury among trail junkies.
Stand with knees slightly bent, feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides while holding two dumbbells against your thighs.
While maintaining a neutral spine, lift one foot off the ground, and hinge at the hip, bringing your back leg up. Then lower the weight down your legs until it reaches just below the knees.
Hold for a second, then slowly press back up to starting position. Repeat. You should feel a slight pull build up in the glutes and hamstring before pushing back to starting position. Switch sides.
2. Single Leg Forward Jumps
This is a fantastic exercise for building power and strength in the calves, quads, glutes, and the entire core. It also improves ankle strength and coordination, which guards against sprains.
The single leg forward jump also improves proprioception—your body’s ability to tell where it is in relation to space. This in turn enhances your overall balance and coordination.
Begin by standing on your right foot with your core engaged, back flat, and arms by your sides.
While using your arms to propel you upward, jump forward as far as possible and land softly on your right foot. The goal is balance, not height, so jump gently. Keep it under control. Repeat on the other leg.
Once this exercise gets easier, do it with your eyes closed.
3. Box Jumps
Box jumps improve leg and hip explosiveness and drive— both key for strong trail running. They also build knee stability and power.
Begin by standing with feet hip-width part behind a step, a box, or a height adjustable study platform. While bracing your core and keeping your back straight, bend at the hips, swings your arms back, and jump up and forward, propelling yourself onto the box.
Make sure to land on the box with both feet and your knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Keep your shoulders, neck, and head relaxed throughout the jump.
Jump back down to starting posting and immediately repeat. Add more reps and height as your power improves.
4. Bulgarian Split Squat
A powerful quadriceps shaker. Bulgarian Split Squats also activate a lot of stabilizer muscles, which are key for coordination and balance.
While holding a pair of dumbbells or Kettlebells, assume a lunge position with the toes of your rear foot resting on a one-to-two foot box, bench, or other slightly raised surface.
While keeping your core engaged and your back flat, lower your torso by bending your front knee, keeping your knee behind your toes throughout. Once your thigh is parallel to the floor, hold for a moment, then slowly extend back to starting position. Remember to squeeze your glutes hard as you drive back up.
There you have it! The above exercises are some of the best cross training moves out there that can help you improve your trail running performance and experience. To take full advantage of them, make sure to add them to your workout program as soon as possible. Otherwise, failure to take action will only set the stage for failure and you don’t want that.
And please, if you have any favorite trail-oriented exercises or drills, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.
In the meantime thank you for reading my post
Keep Running Strong