Get stronger, go farther, and become generally more badass.
Being a trail runner means finding a natural surface somewhere and simply running. Anyone can do it. But maybe you want to see what your body can do, either in a race or with your own personal, nonracing goals. Exercises you can do at home or in a gym can help prevent injury and make your body stronger, which in turn makes you both faster and more durable.
Strengthen Your Feet and Ankles
Your feet, ankles, and legs are doing most of the work on the trail, controlling the upward forces through your legs and hips and into your spine.
Standing Arch Lift
- Stand with your bare feet flat on the floor, pronating so your midfoot/arch sags toward the ground.
- Engage the muscles in your foot and lower leg to raise your arch while not allowing your big toe to lift off the floor.
- Do this with both feet at once, holding the position in a controlled manner until fatigue makes you lose form.
- Advance to balancing on one leg at a time in this position, holding until fatigued.
Strengthen Your Gluteus Medius and Core
Your gluteus medius keeps your hip rotator cuff functioning properly and helps keep your core and your legs working together effectively, especially through side-to-side movements and climbing/descending. These muscles are responsible for how the knees behave and for protecting them from injury.
- Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other and slightly bent. Activate your core.
- Keeping heels together, slowly raise [a] and lower the knee of your top leg 5 times.
- Keeping your knees together, raise and lower the foot [b] of your top leg 5 times.
- Lift your top leg so it hovers a few inches above your lower leg. Raise [c] and lower the knee of your upper leg 5 times, keeping heels roughly 2 inches apart.
- Raise and lower the foot of your upper leg [d] 5 times, keeping your knees roughly 2 inches apart.
- Extend your hip behind the midline of your body, keeping abs tight and the thigh of your upper leg still. Raise and lower your lower leg [e] 5 times.
- Repeat this series 3 to 5 times without rest between sets. Aim for a full range of movement and smooth control.
Stregthen Your Upper Body, Lungs, and Back
Improved flexibility in the upper spine—and in your chest muscles—can help improve lung capacity (breathe easier!), encourage better posture while running, and enhance muscle function in your core and lower body. Proper strength and mobility in the thoracic spine also prevents excess stress of the low back.
Thoracic Spine Mobilization
- Lie on the floor with feet flat on the ground and knees bent, resting your upper body on a 6-inch-diameter foam roller just below your neck, perpendicular to your body.
- Interlock your fingers and place your hands at the top of your neck, supporting your head but allowing it to drop toward the floor as you roll.
- Moving your body by pushing with your feet, which are still flat on the floor, roll your upper body along the foam roller, stopping around the base of your rib cage. Roll back up to starting position.
- Lie with a foam roller lined up along your spine with your head resting on the roller, your feet flat on the ground, and your knees bent.
- Open your arms, palms up, and lay them along the floor as if to make a snow angel. Start with your arms at the top range of the snow angel.
- Slide your arms down toward your lower body, dragging your fingers (and eventually your forearms) along the floor.
- Stop at any particularly tight spots and take a few extra breaths.
- Return to starting position.
Adapted with permission of VeloPress from 'Trailhead: The Dirt on All Things Trail Running' by Lisa Jhung with illustrations by Charlie Layton. For more, visit velopress.com/trail.