Strength Training 2.0 for Trail Runners
by Doug James, Physiotherapist & Podiatrist, intraining Running Centre
Turbo charge your trail running with these excellent conditioning exercises. Following on from the “Strength training for trail runners” article, these next lot of exercises will help to further improve your running technique for all types of running, but trail runners in particular will find these beneficial.
I’d recommend that you only attempt these once you are able to comfortably complete the introductory exercises STRENGTH TRAINING FOR TRAIL RUNNERS. The introductory exercises provide an important base level of strength, which the following exercises can be used to further improve your running conditioning by adding an element of plyometric or explosiveness to your movement. Please note that these exercises may flare up some tendon injuries, so practice caution and cease doing them if your injury flares up.
Your gluteal (backside) muscles are important for running stability and play an important role in injury prevention. Several studies have shown links between gluteal muscle weakness and lower limb injuries – particularly ITB syndrome and shin stress injuries. Strong glutes are important for torso stability when running down hill, and help with quick changes of direction when you come across a technical section of a trail.
The following exercise can help to upgrade your glute strength while also helping your balance and ankle stability – all of which are important for trail running. The Ice Skater exercise is similar to the Side Lunges from the earlier exercises but adds an element of explosiveness to help improve your running power, making hills and acceleration easier.
WHAT: Ice Skaters
HOW: Warm up by doing a few side lunges (for a reminder, click here. For the Ice Skater exercise, start in the side lunge position with your right leg out to the side and your knee bent. Perform a few side lunges in each direction then make the movement quicker while taking a small jump when moving side to side. Start with small jumps about 1m apart, performing 10-12 on each leg for 3 sets.
PROGRESSION: As you become confident with landing, try to speed up the exercise, reducing the amount of time your foot is on the ground. This is good practice for running – since prolonged ground contact time can be a predictor of injury. Once you become stronger, try to increase the distance between landing positions.
On technical trails you may find it’s your core and glutes that get more of a workout than your legs. Dynamic side planks are a great way to build strength in your torso, glutes, and shoulders.
WHAT: Dynamic Side Planks
HOW: Start by laying on your side with your legs out straight. Prop yourself up on your forearm (with your elbow under your shoulder) and the side of your foot. From this position, lower your hips sideways towards the floor then raise back up again. Repeat 12 times on each side for 3 sets.
PROGRESSION: To make it more challenging, keep your top leg elevated at least shoulder width apart while moving your hips.
Strengthening: Calf muscles
By incorporating plyometric (explosive movement) exercises into your routine, you can help to increase your calf muscle strength and improve the stiffness (i.e. springiness) of your Achilles tendon.
HOW: Start by standing tall with your elbows bent at 90°. Drive one knee and the opposite arm upwards and spring off your toes. Upon landing, quickly repeat on the opposite side. Aim to do 20-30 hops on each leg, and perform 2-3 sets. As you become confident with the exercise, introduce some forward movement turning it into skipping movement.
PROGRESSION: If you’re comfortable skipping on flat ground, try skipping up hill. This can really help to accelerate your strength gain, but be careful if you have any calf or achilles niggles.
Building strength in your leg muscles and tendons can help improve your trail running performance. Aim to do these twice a week for 3 weeks of each month, with one rest week to maximise your recovery. There is an increased risk of injury with these higher intensity exercises (so build them up gradually) but the payoff can be worth it!
Doug James – Physiotherapist and Podiatrist, intraining running injury clinic
Doug James – Physiotherapist & Podiatrist
Doug James is a qualified physiotherapist and podiatrist with a special interest in running and sports injuries. He combines the two treatment approaches to achieve successful outcomes for clients of all abilities from non-athletes to elite athletes.
Bachelor of Podiatry (honours), Master of Physiotherapy Studies.
Doug has undertaken further training in dry needling, Pilates, and Rocktape and may incorporate these as necessary during treatment.
Doug is also a keen runner having completed the New York Marathon.