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You just started trail running and you’ve experienced something that has many before you experienced, falling. You fell quite a lot that day so you wondered how can you avoid falling when trail running.
I’ve been trail running for a long time and along with that is the fair share of slipping, tripping, and falling. Along the way, I’ve gathered simple tricks, habits, and knowledge that significantly reduced the number of times I fall during a trail run.
Here’s how to avoid falling on trails:
- Wear a trail running shoe
- Survey the route
- Look 10 steps ahead
- Shorten your strides
- Stay focused
- Use your arms for balance
- Stay light on your feet
- Don’t lean back on downhills
- Don’t worry about your speed
- Train your balance and coordination
- Improve your strength and endurance
- Sleep well before running
- Don’t go all-out on unfamiliar trails
Ahead, we will discuss more of these tricks in detail. We will also look at the 10 of the most common reasons why runners fall on the trail so you can be aware of the dangers. Lastly, since falling is inevitable, I will teach you techniques on how to fall safely.
1. Wear a trail running shoe
One of the fastest ways to reduce the risk of falling on trails is by simply wearing a trail running shoe.
Trail running shoes are designed with better grip, stability, and foot protection than regular running shoes that will help you run better and more confidently on trails.
If you’re looking for a good shoe to start with, I recommend the Brooks Cascadia 16. It has a good grip and soft midsole that’s perfect for training and accumulating mileage. I’ve used the older iteration for a year on training and I have no complaints regarding the performance.
2. Survey the route
Find out as much as you can about the route before you head out and do a run. Check the type of terrain and soil. See how steep the uphills and downhills are. What are the obstacles that you might face? How far is it?
That way, you’ll have an idea of how you’re going to attack this trail and avoid accidents.
3. Look 10 steps ahead
While running, don’t look down. Instead, pick your line 10 steps ahead. Choose your route and evaluate it.
That way, you’re not simply reacting to the terrain in front of you. You’ve already decided where you’re going and created a plan on how to adjust your speed and body when you get there.
4. Shorten your strides
Shortening your strides will allow you to have better control of your speed and direction than simply letting go for the sake of speed.
A shorter stride allows you to react quicker than if your legs are too far forward. In addition, it’s way easier to shift your weight and change direction with a shorter stride than a long one.
If you really want to speed up, increase your cadence instead.
5. Stay focused
Unlike road running, you can’t drift off and get lost in your thoughts when you’re running on the trail. That is why I highly suggest that you get off your earphones and get rid of all the unnecessary things you’re holding when you’re trail running.
6. Use your arms for balance
When you’re running on the trail, allow your arms to move and be the counterweight for your body. There’s no right and wrong way of doing this, most of the time your arms will automatically do it for you. It’s instinct.
Don’t keep your arms tucked in close to your body as you would normally do when you’re running on the road.
7. Stay light on your feet
When I run on loose soil or wet areas, I noticed that when I lean in too much on every stride, I tend to fall a lot. But when I stay light on my feet and pull my feet back immediately after it touches the ground, there’s a lesser chance that I’ll slip.
A lot of runners noticed this as well. So when you’re running on trails, as scary as it sounds, stay light on your feet.
8. Don’t lean back on downhills
A lot of times when we get scared of steep downhills (especially with loose/wet soil) we tend to lean back to our heels in an attempt to break and prevent ourselves from slipping. But what happens is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do, we slip.
That’s because our center of gravity is no longer in the center when we lean far back. That’s why, if you’ve noticed, those who are too cautious to the point that they lean towards the hill slip a lot more than those who are confidently going down upright.
What we have to do is to lean just a little bit forward so our center of gravity is in the middle and let gravity do its thing. Of course, it takes a lot of practice to learn this skill.
My suggestion is to choose a terrain where you can practice this. Typically a less technical and kind of soft terrain and do it over and over until it becomes instinctive.
9. Don’t worry about your speed
When you’re on trails, even if you have experience running ultras on the road, you shouldn’t worry too much about your speed. Instead, let the terrain dictate your speed. Even walking is nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s perfectly normal to be unable to repeat PRs on the trail due to running conditions. Sometimes the trail is too wet or too loose that you have to run slow, and other times it has a great grip that allows you to run faster.
10. Train your balance and coordination
Training for trail running doesn’t only happen at the trail but also in the gym. If you’re a trail runner, a huge part of your workout should comprise of balance exercises like unilateral lifts and wobble boards.
Balance and coordination exercises increase your proprioception and improve your body’s ability to autocorrect when you’re off-balance.
There’s a lot you can do in terms of exercises, some even combine balance and strength at the same time like single-leg deadlifts and weighted Russian step-ups. For beginners, you can begin by doing these simple exercises shown below.
11. Improve your strength and endurance
Have you ever tried running on trails for so long that your knees buckle and you won’t even lift your foot as high because you’re too tired to do so? As a result, you’re more likely to trip from roots or fall from the slightest misstep.
Strength and muscle endurance plays a big part in trail running. Having strength and endurance, especially in the legs, allows you to resist fatigue and exert a stronger effort longer which can keep you from falling, especially in longer runs.
Aside from that, trail running involves a more variety of muscle groups than when you’re running on the road. You use different muscles when you’re going uphills, downhills, and on flats. This is why a balanced strength and coordination program is crucial for trail runners.
Related: Should I Run or Lift First?
12. Sleep well before running
Other than recovery, sleep improves other things decision making, focus, learning, coordination, and endurance. All of which can help you on the trail and avoid falling.
I’ve never really looked at my sleeping habit the way I look at it now, but after reading Mathew Walkers’ book, Why we sleep, I became convinced that sleep is one of the untapped potentials in most athletes.
If you’re not into books, you can listen to it for FREE by signing up to Audible’s 30-day FREE trial. I listened to it while I was running and finished it the same day.
13. Don’t go all-out on unfamiliar trails
Most of us get excited when we’re on new trails, but I suggest you take a step back and just cruise through an unfamiliar trail because you never know what’s on the other side of the curve.
I’ve had a personal experience back in the day. I and my friend were running on this steep downhill which we only overheard from another running talking to one of his friends (It’s on the same mountain but on a different route).
We got really excited and started running downhill as if we were racing. On one of the curves (I didn’t see the curve), I tried to jump over a big rock believing the trail was straight only to find out that I was headed for a pile of small branches of wood. Needless to say, I went home with more scratches than I usually have after a trail run.
Lesson: don’t go too hard on a new route.
10 Reasons why you always fall on trails
To better help you reduce your risk of falling on trails, I compiled a list of the common reasons why a runner might fall so you can be more aware of the dangers ahead.
- The ground is wet or loose
- You’re not focused
- You’re running a bit too fast for your ability
- The trail is too technical
- You’re leaning too far back
- You’re not wearing the right shoes
- You get tired too quickly
- You keep looking at your gadgets
- You’re overthinking
- You don’t train
How to fall safely in case you fall
I don’t believe there’s one trail runner who has never fallen while running on the trail. It’s part of the sport. I have, you have and I’m pretty sure professionals have more than any of us.
But the difference between people who sustain an injury and those who don’t come down to how they react when they fall.
A common reflex to falling is an outstretched hand – that is, you try to break the fall with a stretched-out elbow. As a result, people who fall this way have a higher risk of breaking their hands or elbows.
It’s a natural human reflex – called the Parachute reflex and it will take a lot of practice to get this out of your system.
So how should you fall safely in case you fall?
Keep your limbs close to your body: As you’re falling, you’re instinct will tell you to break the fall with your hands, but what you have to do is keep them close to your body. This prevents you from breaking a bone or dislocating a joint. Instead, land with both your elbows to distribute the impact well or roll on your shoulder.
Roll: One of the best skills to learn as a trail runner or when you’re doing any extreme sports is rolling (like the ones you see in parkour). It’s one of the best ways to break your fall and disperse the impact of the fall.
Here’s a great video I found on youtube on how to practice the rolls instinctively
It will take a lot of practice though.
Protect your head: If you’re falling into a large rock or you’re about to roll down multiple times in a steep hill, there’s only one thing left to do: Protect your head.
Tuck your chin and cover your head with your arms. You may break a few bones but at least you’re not concussed.
Slightly bent elbow technique: Slightly bend your elbows so that it acts as a shock and absorbs impact.
These techniques are only as good as how much you practice them. That’s why I highly recommend including a safe falling routine in your training. This will help make these techniques instinctive.
Before you trail run…
Trail running is an intense sport and there are many things you have to prepare for. You have to be prepared physically and mentally for the obstacles that are to come. That is why I highly recommend that you get in shape for trail running.
In addition, you need to pack all the necessary things that you’d need for a successful run. What are those? In another article, I outlined everything that you need to pack for a trail run. Check it out.
Trail running is a fun and exciting sport but along with it is slipping, tripping, and falling. It’s part of the sport and it’s a very common thing for trail runners. However, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to reduce the number of times you fall. By doing the ones I’ve outlined above, you will be able to run on trails safer.
Since I’ve mentioned that falling is inevitable in trail running, one of the best things you can do is to practice how you fall. That way, when you do fall, you won’t sustain major injuries and will still be able to continue running.