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Hiking & Trail Running

The Benefits of Trail Running | Is it Better Than Road Running?

Is trail running better than road running? Why should I head off-road?

Trail running is beginning to give road running a run for its money in terms of its popularity thanks to the wide range of benefits heading off-road can have. A lot of road runners are eventually forced to hang up their trainers due to the sheer strain that pounding the pavements can have on their bodies.

Trail running on even the most technical of terrain has proved to be less demanding on the body, making it an ideal sport for those wanting to run right the way into their old age. Read on to find out more about the benefits of trail running, and check our beginner’s guide to trail running to find out what you need to get started.

1) Trail running causes fewer injuries than road running

Road running is synonymous with injury – knee, back and glutes, are common complaints amongst regular road runners. This can be due to running technique and poor shoe choice, but is also related to the impact of running on hard surfaces on your body from running coupled with the fact that road running is a very repetitive movement.

Running on the softer terrain of a dirt track, forest trail or grassy field lowers the impact on the body reducing the number of injuries. In addition to that, trail running can also help with injury prevention – running along varying surfaces forces the body to twist and turn which actually strengthens the stabilising muscles in your legs and helps to absorb the overall impact of running on your body.

2) Trail running improves your running technique

You will notice when you start trail running that you are forced to take shorter strides, landing more on your forefoot as opposed to your heel than you might on the road. Adapting this habit is really good for your overall running technique. Longer strides for example, can cause glute injuries and other lower back problems for regular road runners.

3) Trail running works a wider range of muscles

Your body needs to be a lot more agile to negotiate trail. You’ll be required to jump over obstacles, twist and turn to avoid roots and rocks in your path, and balance as you teeter on an uneven surface as you do so. This combined with the fact that the softer surface requires more lift from your leg on each step as it compresses more than the road means that your body gets a much more rounded workout as you activate the smaller, less used muscles in your legs. The strengthening of these smaller muscles therefore helps to stabilize the more major muscles in your legs making injury less likely as discussed above.

Because of the uneven surfaces that you cover when trail running, it actually gives you a more complete body workout. Photo: iStock

4) Fresh air is good for the lungs

Generally speaking, road runners will have to breathe in a certain amount of traffic-induced pollution which according to a recent article on Active.com can cause lung damage. Running on the trails will give you the opportunity to get a good workout with nothing but nice, clean, fresh air to gulp down into those lungs.

5) Trail running allows you to explore new places off the beaten track

Heading out on a trail run feels like a real adventure. You are leaving the everyday hustle and bustle of life behind you as you head into the wilderness. The number of routes out there to explore are endless and it gives you the opportunity to see places and experience a place in a way that few others get to do.

Trail running routes are often more varied and beautiful than their road-running equivalents. Photo: iStock

6) Trail running is good for the soul

Trail running doesn’t let you switch off, but it does require that you focus all of your attention on the task in hand. This actually gives your mind a chance to completely switch off from the stresses that may be consuming your thoughts on a daily basis. In turn, you will find that you feel totally relaxed (and a little tired, but in the best way possible) as you stop to take a breath and admire the epic views of the peaceful countryside that surround you.

For all these benefits, trail running isn’t that pricey either – compared to the kit required for many outdoor sports (mountain biking for example) trial running gear is relatively cheap, there are no lift passes involved, and you don’t need much to get started as a beginner.

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