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I was running on trails frequently when I noticed that my road run has improved significantly. I was surprised, I wasn’t running fast on trails so I wondered how it made me fast on road. I asked some elite runners if it’s possible that trail running help improves road running and they gave me several reasons for it.
Trail running helps improve road running. It does that by strengthening your muscles and providing you new challenges such as balance and coordination that are vital for road running. It also helps slow you down on easy days which will help you prevent fatigue and burnout.
Ahead, we will look at 8 ways trail running helps improves road running in detail.
It strengthens your muscles
If you’ve only been running on the road your whole life, chances are, you have muscle imbalances and are suffering from overuse injuries. That’s because road running is a very repetitive sport. Whether you speed up or slow down, you’re using the same muscles over and over again.
Trail running, on the other hand, involves lots of side steps, uphills, and downhills that will awaken those neglected muscles. Trail running is also a fantastic way to strengthen your core which is vital for the proper running posture.
That said, switching one or two road running sessions per week to trail running might be the workout your body needs.
It forces you to slow down
How many times have you ever decided to do a recovery run only to end up running faster than you should’ve?
Thanks to the rocks, roots, and mud, trail running forces you to slow down making it the perfect tool for recovery runs.
Instead of forcing yourself to run slow on the road (which is incredibly hard to do), you can let nature slow you down.
It improves your balance and stability
Want to improve your balance and stability? Try running on technical trails. It will improve your balance and coordination as well as train small muscles of your leg and ankle that will improve stability.
It relieves stress
Running on the road, particularly if you’re running the same route or distance, can sometimes cause stress and anxiety. The constant pressure that you have to run at a particular pace or you have to beat your old time can actually diminish your performance and burn you out.
Trail running gets you off that pressure and allows you to just run at your own pace and enjoy nature. That way, you’ll have renewed energy and motivation for the next training session.
It has a lesser impact on your joints
Running too much on an asphalt road beats up your joints. Soft ground, on the other hand, absorbs some of that impact which allows you to run the same miles with less damage.
Switching some of your road runs to trails allows you to train more distances with a lesser impact on your joints. If you wish to train for speed, choose buffed-out trails so you don’t have to worry about stumbling upon rocks or roots.
It allows you to train more
Because trail running distributes the effort on several muscle groups and has a lesser impact on your joints, it allows you to squeeze in more miles without feeling too fatigued.
It makes you enjoy running again
Some of you may be feeling burned out from the day-to-day pressure of training. If that continues, running may soon feel like a chore instead of fun.
Trail running is a less boring way of training. The scenic views and diverse set of challenges will keep you focused and allows you to train in a whole new way. If you’re lucky, you may even find a lake or a waterfall nearby to relax and recover.
It gives you variation in training
Tired of doing the same thing over and over again? Replace your usual training with trail running instead.
If you want to train your power, attack short but steep and technical trails as quickly as you can instead of doing your plyometrics or your sprints. The mere elevation and jumping over roots and rocks is enough stimuli to train your explosiveness.
If you want to train for a marathon, head to the nearest buffed-out trail so you can run more miles and not put too much stress on your joints.
If you want to build your muscular endurance and stamina, hike uphill and run on flats instead of doing tempo runs on the road.
The variations that you get will keep you motivated for the race.
But don’t do it close to race day though, trails are prone to missteps, slipping, and tripping which can lead to injury. I suggest reducing your trail runs to once every two weeks at least a month before the competition.
(Related: 13 Ways to Avoid Falling When Trail Running)
Is trail running significantly harder than road running?
Trail running isn’t necessarily harder than road running. Different types of trail offer different types of challenges. The key is to find the perfect trail that is right for what you’re training for.
Steep, technical trails usually warrant strength and explosiveness. Downhills and flats usually train speed and agility. Both road and trail running is hard on your cardiovascular system.
Check out my full article on this topic for more information regarding trail and road running.
Based on the benefits we outlined above, it’s safe to say that trail running is a great tool to help improve your performance on the road. Replacing your road runs once or twice a week is a great way to train for road races. Just remember to stay safe and choose the right trail for your event.