Trail running is an excellent method to mix up your workout, lower your chance of injury, and present yourself with a fresh challenge if you’re running bored with the same old routes on the treadmill or the streets.
Putting on your running shoes and hitting the trails is exactly what it sounds like. When compared to road running, trail running is more of a dare-to-chase adventure; you never know if you’ll be on a perfectly paved path the whole running.
While both road and trail running can have changes in elevation, the latter often features more unexpected terrain with surfaces (such rocks, roots, and streams) that call for a shoe specifically engineered to help support the foot while running.
The Positive Effects of Trail Running on Your Health
Both road running and trail running have been shown to improve aerobic fitness, increase muscular endurance, and raise mental health, as stated by Central Washington University Associate Professor of Nutrition and Exercise Science Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., RDN, CSSD. Pritchett is correct in saying that both types of running have similar, if not identical, cardiovascular effects; however, it remains to be seen whether trail running has a greater cardiovascular advantage than road running.
However, research shows that trail running has health benefits that go far beyond the physical. So, let’s examine these advantages more closely.
And it gets better: A 2020 systematic review found that running was linked to a reduced risk of death in men and women from cardiovascular and cancer illness.
Some running or jogging versus no running or jogging was shown to have increased health in participants and lifespan benefits, although Pritchett notes that this review did not contain precise patterns for weekly volume, pace, duration, or even topography.
In addition, when it comes to accumulating mileage, more does not always equal better. However, the scientists also cautioned that more running may not always reduce mortality.
Helps the heart and arteries stay healthy
When you run or jog, you engage many more muscle groups than those used during running. The heart is a muscle; don’t deny it! Every time you take a step, your heart pumps blood to support your exercise and builds muscle in preparation for the next time you need it.
The 2020 systematic review cited above found that runners had a decreased risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, running them up for success.
Despite the fact that this advantage is not unique to trail running, it does provide a foundation upon which to build studies comparing road and trail running in terms of their effects on the cardiovascular system.
Increases Stamina and Posture Control
The added strength training that the terrain offers to work stabilizer muscles is one of the best benefits that running coach and author Amanda Brooks shares with her clients to get them out on the trails, she writes in her book Run To The Finish: The Everyday Runner’s Guide to Avoiding Injury, Ignoring the Clock, and Loving the Run.
Pritchett agrees, noting that runners may see gains in lower limb strength, balance, and neuromuscular benefits due to the various terrain encountered while trail running. In addition, the softer surface may lower the risk of harm to the joints.
Still, Pritchett cautions hikers to be extra careful should they injure themselves on the uneven ground or fall over unseen rocks or roots. This is especially true when people fail to take care of their basic needs like eating and drinking, which leads to poor judgment and memory.
Possibly Lessens the Incidence of Some Injuries
When compared to running on a path or other more forgiving surface, running on the road is more taxing on the joints. In fact, taking to the trail rather than the road may lessen the likelihood of some injuries. In a study from the year 2020, scientists compared road runners against trail runners, paying special attention to the effects on the Achilles tendon. Researchers showed that road runners are at greater risk for Achilles tendon structural alterations due to increased tendon stresses and decreased shock absorption.
Improves one’s disposition and one’s sense of mental health
Pritchett claims that getting some “vitamin N” (nature) while out on a run is a great method to boost mental health. The studies confirm this, too.
According to a study conducted in 2020, individuals who ran up to 6.5 miles on trails reported feeling healthier and happier after running the runs. Although this study has some flaws—its self-reported survey and lack of diversity in the sample—it is a useful addition to the existing literature.
In 2019, researchers found that runners of all levels preferred locations with both greenery and a high activity level in order to feel restored afterward.
Encourages social interaction
Getting down after a run? To fully appreciate the social benefits that running may bring, get up some pals and hit the pavement or look into joining a running club.
“Trail running can bring some excitement and joy back to a lot of runners,” Brooks says. “They spend so much time focused on pacing while hitting the road.”
However, as we have seen, there are many advantages to trail running that are not included in her article, including something that many of us have missed over the previous year: connection.
Benefits of Trail Running and How to Get the Most Out of It
If you’re just starting out in the sport of trail running (or running in general), Brooks has some suggestions to help you get off to a great start.
Buy a pair of trail running shoes.
She starts by recommending trail shoes to her customers because of the extra traction they provide on the trail. Road runners must learn to accept the slower pace and keep their feet moving in order to avoid falling.
Modify Your Gait
“The idea of “picking up our feet” may seem intuitive, but Brookes notes that some distance runners do use a “little shuffle” to save energy. You need to be more cognizant of your foot-strike on the trails because the dirt will grab that shuffle and slow you down.”
Planning Your Fueling And Hydration Efforts
Pritchett describes the severe physiological pressure exerted on the body of experienced trail runners that compete in trail ultra-events that can last more than four hours, including dehydration, neuromuscular fatigue, inflammation, exercise-induced muscle injury, and glycogen depletion.
Proper fueling before, during, and after a trail run can have a significant impact on how you feel and how fast you finish. This is because, as Pritchett explains, studies have shown that consuming enough carbohydrates and water during training and races can help delay fatigue and improve performance in these situations.