The TrailRunning Workout

By Nicole Radziszewski |

Tired of running on unforgiving pavement that pounds away at your knees? Want to add some variety to your treadmill routine? Say hello to running on trails with dirt, rocks, roots, hills — and adventure.

When you hit the trails, you won’t be alone or without inspiration. According to the American Trail Running Association (ATRA), 2,667 trail-running races took place in the United States in 2012, with 327,098 reported participants — more than twice as many as in 2006. And more Americans partook in outdoor recreation in 2012 than any year since the Outdoor Foundation began measuring the trend, with running, jogging, and trail running topping the list.

The popularity makes sense for all sorts of reasons: Being on the trail means “not having to deal with cars, stoplights, potholes, curbs, or gutters, but rather enjoying nature in its most raw form,” explains Nancy Hobbs, founder and executive director of ATRA and coauthor of The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running. Not only do natural obstacles, including terrain variations and elevation changes, make trail running a fun challenge, but getting the chance to stop along the way to enjoy a bit of nature or a panoramic view can be equal parts invigorating and meditative.

“Trail running also builds strength and flexibility because you’re using different muscles than you would on a road,” Hobbs says. “The climbing, especially, strengthens your core. The uneven surface improves balance and proprioception — and you even become mentally stronger because you are forced to pay close attention to the trail.”

Blue Benadum, a professional running coach and elite marathoner, prescribes trail running to his athletes as a means to prevent injuries. “Because of the constant change in terrain, you end up doing a lot more lateral work, so recruitment of stabilizing muscles, such as your gluteus medius, is through the roof compared with road running,” he says.

The following workout, designed by Benadum, features a mix of exercises that will make you a stronger, more efficient trail runner.

The ideal place to do this routine is on a hill (approximately 200 yards long) in the great outdoors, but you can adapt it for the gym or the urban jungle (a long staircase will do the trick). And no matter where you decide to hit the trail, prepare to sweat. “This workout is tough,” Benadum admits. “But the results are instantly noticeable on your next run.”


A Trail-Running Workout

For this workout, you’ll need a runnable hill around 200 yards long. (A set of stairs, ideally about 200 steps, will work, too.) If you’re at the gym, you can set the treadmill on an incline for the uphill portions and keep it flat on the downhill segments.

1. Jog downhill

The workout begins at the top of the hill. Start lightly jogging, or walking, down the hill.







  1. Try to land your feet below your torso, not far out in front of you. This is easier if you place your feet quickly, starting the next stride as soon as your foot hits the ground.
  1. If a trail is very steep but wide, you can go down it almost like you’re slalom skiing. Move in a zigzag pattern, leaning into your stride.

2. Run uphill

At the bottom of the hill, turn and run up the hill at maximal effort. If using a staircase, take two stairs at a time. Skipping a stair is optimal for most people’s running stride.








  1. To prevent your calves from tightening, focus on landing midfoot.
  1. Lean forward as you run, keeping your arms at a 90-degree angle, and drive your elbows directly backward. As your arms swing forward, make sure your hands are to your sides and not crossing your chest.

3. Perform strength exercise

  1. When you reach the top of the hill, complete one set of one strength exercise.

4. Repeat for six rounds

  1. Each time you reach the top of the hill, perform a different strength exercise. Be sure to recover on the downhill and work hard on the uphill.

Strength Exercises







  1. Complete 12 repetitions on each side.







  1. Repeat 15 times, or as many as you are able to complete in good form.







  1. Repeat on the right. Do 13 reps per side, alternating.







  1. Repeat 25 times.







  1. Complete 10 repetitions on each side.







  1. Complete 13 reps per side.

This article originally appeared as “Trail Mix” in the April 2014 issue of Experience Life. 

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