Whether you’re marathon training or enjoy a 5k round the block, it’s always good to vary your workout and head to the trails. “Trails are going to take away a lot of stress from the impact that you’d normally get running on harder surfaces,” says Dr. Scott Levin, a New York-based sports medicine expert and orthopedic surgeon. “Some of the forces that would normally be transmitted from the pavement up to the ankles, knees, shins, and hips are dissipated when the foot hits the ground on the trails because there’s some give there.” So arm yourself with some bug spray and sunnies and head to the woods.
Softer surfaces mean fewer injuries, not only due to lower impact forces, but also because you'll build more strength in the muscles that help stabilize your lower leg. Your feet sink in slightly upon impact on an unpaved trail, which partially absorbs the force of your stride. ‘Varying the terrain on which you run is helpful in avoiding injuries,’ says Sammy Margo, spokesperson for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. ‘There’s a tendency to make the same repetitive motion over and over again on flat surfaces, which is problematic if there are issues with your technique. You may not realise you are doing it, but you are forced to make tiny adjustments to your running style on trails.’
Burn More Calories
With its uneven terrain, changes in running surface and the occasional hill, research shows that trail running burns up to 10% more calories than running on a road or track for the same time or distance.
Work Muscles Harder
Livestrong explains that trail running not only helps save your knees from intense jarring, but it also intensifies your muscle workout. Trails generally include various inclines and declines, roots that may stick out of the ground, tree branches, water obstacles such as streams and puddles, and a variety of other natural elements. Such terrain typically doesn't allow for steady, paced running and incorporates jumping, twisting, directional changes and pace variations, giving you a more effective overall workout and improving your core muscles and sense of balance.
Build a Better Body
Woody trails are often naturally hilly, and although you may loathe inclines, you'll love the way they make you work harder and end up toning your legs, buttocks, and core, as well as your arms. Stronger muscles not only make you feel more confident in your bathing suit, but they'll also help you build speed and endurance.
A trail doesn’t have to be steep, rocky, or riddled with roots to be called a ‘trail’ or to give you any of the benefits of mind and body. Simply finding a non-paved surface, like a packed dirt road, wood-chip-covered path, or rail trail will allow you to ease up on your joints and enjoy nature. If you are training for a road-race or distance run, try swapping one of your training runs for a trail run, to give your joints a break and work on weaker muscles.
Don’t let trails intimidate you. After all, it’s only dirt.
features writer & lifestyle blogger and avid shoe wearer.