Workouts To Improve Your Trail Running
Written By: Risqat Fabunmi-Alade
Ahead of the launch of the new Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail, SportsShoes Nike Ambassador and Third Space Trainer Fabby Fabumi has put together a resistance training session specifically designed to improve your trail running. Putting the workout to the ultimate test is SAS: Who Dares Wins star and SportsShoes.com ambassador Ant Middleton, who is looking to perfect his running ahead of taking to the trails equipped with the new Pegasus model.
Why resistance training?
Characterised by uneven terrain, hills and twists and turns, trail running puts your body under different pressures than a run through the park, treadmill or laps of an athletics track. Your body has to work harder to stabilise and maintain balance and as a result of rocky and rutted trails, trail runners are at an increased risk of injury, particularly problems such as ankle sprains or hip and knee issues. Instability and weakness in the hip, knee or ankle further exacerbate the possibility. So, rather than wait for problems to occur, it’s important to take a preventative stance by strengthening the body to cope with the demands of the trails.
For a lot of runners, resistance training remains a foreign concept and even a feared one. Visions of gaining bulk, getting hurt, having sore joints and reduced running performance results in purposeful avoidance of the gym. However, a smart and properly executed approach to lifting weights can leave you the strongest and fastest you’ve ever been!
These common misconceptions are easily debunked:
“I’ll have to reduce my running volume”
A personalised programme should be specific to you and work with your running routine not against it. Strength training after a heavy running day won’t impede a following rest or lighter load day. Alternatively, you might prefer to lift on a lower mileage or easy running day to reduce the overall training load on a specific day. Either method is suitable and means you’re still able to accumulate some miles.
“I don’t want to gain weight”
Bulking up or gaining muscle mass is rarely an accident and takes a specific type of resistance training (hypertrophy) paired with a surplus of calories to encourage significant muscle growth significantly. Strength based and therefore lower rep programmes executed while maintaining your current calorie intake lead to increased strength without adding excessive weight and muscle mass. The goal is to get strong while staying light/maintaining a functional weight. Still, consider this, a small amount of muscle mass gained is not necessarily a bad thing if it’s fit for purpose. For example, many people credit Mo Farah’s move to being coached in America (where his strength training increased) to large improvements in performance.
“I’ll get injured/damage my joints”
Doing too much too soon, with poor form and inadequate recovery may indeed cause more harm than good, however the same rings true for beginner runners who aren’t conditioned. A gradual increase in load and intensity will mean that your body steadily improves and adapts to be able to cope with the demands of training.
The benefits of resistance training for trail runners
We’ve broken down common weight training myths and now know what adding strength training to your routine won’t do, but how will it benefit your time on the trails?
Speed speed speed!
The stronger you get, the more power you’ll be able to put down into the ground with each step. Cadence x increased force per foot strike, will have you moving faster than before!
Better technique and running form
Muscular fatigue during the end stages of a hard training run or race can lead to a breakdown of technique and ‘sloppy’ running resulting in an increased injury risk and slower performance. Having stronger muscles improves muscular endurance. This means you’ll tire less quickly, allowing you to maintain optimal running form and run harder for longer.
More fuel in the tank
Glycogen is a key energy source, essential for endurance efforts. Muscles store glycogen and their stores can be manipulated for optimal performances; most runners have heard of carb depletion and loading before major races in an effort to have as much of it available as possible. Increased lean muscle = increased muscle glycogen stores = increased glycogen available for energy. The more energy you have available for use, the faster and/or longer you’ll be able to run.
Body balance up top
It’s important not to avoid upper body workouts too. The arms and trunk are a key factor in running strength including uphill and over technical terrain. The trunk and arms act as counterbalance to the lower body and provide essential power transfer through the core to the hips and legs, contributing to overall speed. A strong back and core improve running posture, which translates to better form, performance and a reduced injury risk.
Weight baring exercise has been shown to increase bone density and the strength of connective tissues. Stronger more stable joints? Stronger and more stable trail running.
The benefits of strength training for trail runners are pretty enticing once you know what they are. The next essential step is proper execution. For strength you need to work close to maximum efforts with a lower rep-range than hypertrophy or endurance. A load of 75-85% of your 1 rep max (1RM) for 6-8 reps is a good place to start. Recovery time also matters; after bouts of heavy lifting, to allow the muscles and nervous system to recover adequately for the following set you need to take at least 1.5 – 3 minutes of rest. Heavy weights demand a focus on technique. Make sure you are lifting correctly by consulting credible online examples or a qualified exercise professorial for help. Additionally, take your time! Strength doesn’t come overnight; periodise and properly plan training by slowly building gym sessions into your routine. Allow sufficient recovery between sessions so muscles can successfully adapt and get stronger; lifting everyday to complete exhaustion is not the way forward.
To complement strength work trail runners would also benefit from incorporating Plyometric exercises—also known as 'plyos' or jump training— in their routines. These are movements in which muscles exert repeated bouts of maximum force in short intervals, with the goal of increasing power. Countermovement jumps, bounding and depth jumps (both single and double leg) are great variations to practice control in landings and the ability of the body to quickly load and take off immediately. When consistently used in training they can increase agility speed and grace on the trails ten-fold.
The following strength session that has been put together for Ant Middleton. It’s designed to prep his body and get him ready to hit the trails. For this workout Ant and Fabby are training in the newly launched Nike Metcon 5 training shoes, flat and sturdy enough for heavy compound and Olympic lifts yet flexible and moveable to complete more dynamic movements in the gym.
SportsShoes.com x Ant Middleton Nike Metcon 5 workout
WARM UP (<10 MINS)
Foam roll <30s each body part
Walk to plank + push up x10
Reverse lunge + rotation x5 each leg
Hip circles x10 each direction
ACTIVATION (~5 MINS)
Single leg hip thrusts 2x10 each leg*
Around the clock foot taps 2x5 full cycles
Rest 1-2 minutes in between sets
A1 Barbell Deadlift 4x6
A2 Dumbbell Side lunges 4x12
B1 Eccentric push-ups 3x10 **
B2 Weighted squat to bench 3x8***
C1 Barbell Calf raise 2x14
C2 Medicine ball wood chops 2x12 each side
D1 (Plyometrics) Counter movement Jumps 2x10 total
Single leg lateral bounds + stick 2x20 total
* Can regress to SL Glute Bridge on the floor.
** Can regress to bench
*** Can regress to body weight/TRX or progress lower box)