Here’s your Checklist for Better Trail Running Technique

While you’re expected to repeat the same motion over and over again when running on the road, you’ll need to change up your technique on the trails.

To be a good trail runner, you’ll need the right technique for uphills, downhills, and technical terrains. You’ll also be adopting different foot strikes, taking small steps and longer strides between landing your toes and landing your heels.

This may seem like a lot to digest and handle but fret no more. I got you covered, buddy.

In today’s post, I’ll give you the essential trail running guidelines you need for overcoming the tougher, more technical, terrains.


Pick up Your Knees

The most crucial trail-specific cue: pick your knees. This is especially the case on super technical terrains littered with roots and rocks.

Never drag your feet. This should help you avoid roots, rocks, and other any other debris that might trip you up.

Shorten your Stride

Keep your steps short and light over technical terrain so you can easily react and hop without overstriding. Overstriding can put you in a compromised position, especially if your foot lands on an unstable surface.

In other words, the smaller the strides, the more likely you’re of staying upright and not biting the dust.

Land On Your Midfoot

Pundits’ opinions on proper foot strike differ, but I’d always recommend landing on the midfoot—especially on the trails. Doing so maximizes balance and protects against injury.

It also means that you’re staying over your center of gravity rather than behind or in front of it. This helps you better control your speed and maintain balance.

Mind Your Head

Staring at your feet or getting lost in the scenery can quickly lead to tripping and falling.

Keep your head up with your back and shoulders relaxed. This not only helps you keep a loose form but also aid in breathing.

Look forward. Literally. Keep your eyes centered and front and scan the trail 10 to 15 feet in front for obstacles.  You’ll have a better reaction time when you’re prepared to handle what’s coming.

Arms & Shoulders

An efficient arm swing helps build upward and forward momentum through the entire body, instead of solely relying on the legs.

Keep swinging your arms in a sharp, short movement when you’re tackling a hill.  Straighten your shoulders and align them with your back.

Keep your elbows a little wider for extra balance on more technical trails.

The Uphill Section

This is the part that runners have the most trouble adjusting to.

Gravity is your main opponent when running up a hill, so you have got to do extra work to overcome it. This forces your body to recruit more muscle fibers to conquer the force of gravity and carry you over the incline.

To tackle the uphill efficiently, do the following:

  • Lean forward toward the incline from your ankles while keeping your body straight. This should bring your center of gravity forward. Think ski jumpers position.
  • Keep your feet under the body and lean your body towards the incline to improve your drive. Let momentum and gravity assist your movement uphill.
  • Keep a light and quick cadence. The steeper the hill, the smaller the steps. This helps you maintain a good rhythm and prevents you from getting overly tired. Think of it as shifting into an easier gear when biking.
  • Quick and light steps will also help you avoid strains to your glutes, calves, hamstrings, and Achilles’ tendons.
  • Keep your breathing, arm swing, and step in equal motion to your cadence.  As you run up the hill, use your arms to help propel you, swinging them both forward and back.
  • When in doubt, walk. It’s often more efficient and energy-saving than trying to keep a running cadence. It’s okay to walk uphills—it’s a thing known as power hiking in the world of trail running.

The Downhill Section

What goes up must come down.

Sure, pounding the incline feels more challenging from a cardio perspective, but going downhill is no easy walk in the park—and a lot harder on your body.

Blown out quads, ankle sprains, knee pain are common injuries that might arise from opting for the wrong downhill running form.

Implement the following to ensure an efficient, pain-free, downhill running experience:

  • Choose your downhill path in advance and pay attention to potentially loose gravel or slimy roots. Look three to five feet ahead of where you’re about to step.
  • Keep yourself from overstriding. You’ll be landing hard when you’re reaching out too much in front, which sends lots of shock through your muscles and joints. That’s the last thing you’d want.
  • Embrace the forward fall and keep moving with it. Keep your running cadence high, but avoid overreaching your steps.
  • Land on your midfoot. This reduces the load placed on your knees and quads, minimizes the braking effect, and helps to prevent injury, especially blisters. Ensure your feet fall beneath you.
  • Raise your head and pop out your elbows (like a chicken) to improve your control and balance.
  • Keep your arms moving freely. This will allows keeping balance by counterbalancing your legs. Pump your arms back and forth, but not across your body. This will better support your leg movement.

Remember your Form

Keep checking your running form periodically while running. Are your shoulders caving forward? Are you taking long strides? Are you hunched over? Etc.


There you have it. These proper trail running form guidelines and cues are all you need to improve your training technique when hitting the trails. You need to show up and make the necessary adjustments ASAP. The rest is just detail.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep running strong.

David D.