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Strength Training for Trail Runners

Trail running has unique demands, make sure you understand them and train to enhance them!


Exercise selection

  • For the time poor, select multi-joint exercises that also challenge auxiliary (supportive) musculature.

  • Select exercises that match your training age, training phase & injury status

  • Select exercises that mimic trail running

Periodisation for endurance strength

It is important to match your strength training load to your training phase. If you're new to strength training, it is best to start in your off season. Inevitably you will encounter some muscle soreness when starting a new strength program, so if you start in the off season, it's okay if you're sore and have to reduce your running temporarily. Here's an example of how you might control your strength training throughout the year:

How to capitalise on your strength gains - for trail and road runners alike

Concurrent training: how & why

Concurrent training is when you combine strength training and running/endurance training in one session, and has received considerable attention in scientific research. Here is what we recommend

  • Specificity principle – if you are pressed for time, you are injury free, and you are in base, build or peak season, prioritize endurance and trail sessions over strength sessions.

  • You will get the most out of the first session of the day, so if your program calls for a quality running session, do this before your strength session. Your running mechanics will be better. If you’re injured, you are training for power or you’re in the off season, it would be reasonable to do your strength session first.

  • You’re always the most sore 2 days after your strength training, therefore we recommend doing your quality running session on the same day, or the next morning after your strength session, when your muscles are not at their most sore.

  • Have at least 2-3 days between strength sessions that target the same muscle group

How to set up your program

We're not powerlifters, fitness models, or body builders, so lets keep things simple..

1. Mobility – match your mobility movements to personal tightness/weakness and exercise selection for the remainder of the program. Choose 2 or 3 and perform 2-3 sets per exercise. Heres some to get you started:

2. Activation – target your weaknesses here. If you have one side weaker than the other, choose single leg activities, and do double of the weak side. Also match to the muscles required for the remainder of your program. Choose 2-4 and perform 3 sets per exercise. Here's some examples, as a rule of thumb, if the first few reps, or first set feel need to do more of it!

3. Main program – choose a maximum of 7-8 exercises. Order them from the most taxing exercise (multi-joint/full body e.g. deadlift or squat) to least taxing (most likely core). Put them in groups of 2 or 3 and complete all sets in the group before moving onto the next one. Pair an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise. Keep reading for an example program.

Trail Specific Considerations

Once you've built your base strength in the off season and the start of the base phase, it's time to get specific! Here are some trail characteristics and matching exercises to consider. Let's see how they differ to the flat road!

1. Surface changes

Requires variable and rapid change in gait, cadence and foot strike

DRILL- Cone sprints, hurdles, side steps, ladder drills:

Set up a long line of obstacles to run around, over, push off the side of etc. the more directions the better!

2. Gradient - we've never met a flat trail race!

Vertical drive up and forward, higher knee lift, unstable foot landing forcing a single leg “squat to stand”:

Exercise one: Up downs

  • Kneeling on both knees, step forward with your left leg, push through the heel, and stand up. Try and keep your hips even. Then, put your left on the ground, and repeat.

  • PROGRESSION 1: add a weight, and hold in under your chin

  • PROGRESSION 2: add a step, to step up onto

  • Work up to 3 sets of 20 reps per side before progressing

Exercise two: reverse lunge step-ups with knee drive

  • Standing in front of a step or bench, preform a reverse lunge, then with your back foot, step up onto the step and drive your opposite knee up high. Return to the floor and repeat.

  • PROGRESSION 1: hold a weight

  • PROGRESSION 2: increase height of the step up

  • Suggested use: work up to 3 sets of 15 before progressing


3. Gradient - sideways movements

The need to move sideways can pop up unexpectedly, make sure you're ready to have your weight split between different gradients!!

Exercise: Lateral Hops

  • Choose an object to jump over that's within your ability e.g. small cushion or hurdle

  • Stand to one side, on one foot. Leap over the object landing on the opposite foot

  • PROGRESSION 1: start and finish on the same foot

  • PROGRESSION 2: change the size/height you're jumping over

  • Suggested use: build up to 3 sets of 20 per leg before progressing

4. Resistance - is what makes trail running so much fun!

Pressure and friction load with the soft/resisted surface reduces elastic energy resulting in the need to generate more muscle force

Exercise: Resisted hip flexion

  • Attach a long band, or cable to your ankle

  • In a split stance with one foot in front of the other, drive your knee forward and up towards hip height

  • Slowly return to the floor and repeat

  • PROGRESSION 1: Stand further and further away, or add a second band to increase resistance

  • PROGRESSION 2: stand on a low step and continue tapping the banded foot to the floor behind the step

  • PROGRESSION 3: use a weighted cable machine

  • Suggested use: build to 3 sets of 15-20 before progressing

4. Stride variation - is what makes trail running so much fun!

Length of stride variation required to ensure stable foot placement resulting in potential forced overstriding

Exercise: Deficit lunges

  • Using 2x steps or a benches of the same height, set yourself up into a long lunge position

  • Lunge down until your knee is below the height of the step

  • Push through the heel of the front foot and return to the starting position

  • PROGRESSION 1: increase the height of the back step, so that the steps are uneven

  • PROGRESSION 2: add a weight

  • Suggested use: build up to 4 sets of 15 repetitions before progressing

Need some help?

We offer both group strength training and more specialised strength and conditioning. Get in contact if you want some more guidance!

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