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6 Unconventional Exercises for Trail Runners

The Top 6 Unconventional Exercises for Trail Running

Written by
October 3, 2014
Updated April 12, 2018

Remember that time when you decided to go trail running, just a few miles even, on a rocky, muddy trail with roots and stumps everywhere? Remember when you were done, as you emerged from the forest with bloody knees and mud in places you’d be embarrassed to tell people about, and thought, “Yippee, that sure was easy!”? Yeah, me neither.

Trail running is not as straightforward, literally, as road running. It is much more dynamic and requires an ability to change direction rapidly to avoid rocks and roots, to jump and hurdle unexpected obstacles in the path, to use the arms much more dynamically for steering and balance, and to remain upright when it seems gravity and mother nature are trying their damnedest to bring you down. It requires, strength, power, agility, balance, coordination, endurance, and an equal amount of grit and determination.

Here are six exercises for trail running every runner should be doing to build strength and reduce the risk of injury.

Trail Running Exercise #1: The Kettlebell Bulgarian Split Squat

Trail running is basically a series of single leg squat jumps requiring great strength, balance and plenty of ankle stability. The Kettlebell Bulgarian Split Squat is a great way to increase all of these. Although this is a static exercise, you can imagine that if you can’t control your balance while holding still you aren’t going to have much luck out on the trails either. To perform this exercise, elevate one foot behind you on a bench or step.

For those who have experienced frequent foot cramps or toe pain while holding this position, try using a barbell placed across a rack at the appropriate height, use a towel or other padding, and place your ankle on the padding. This prevents the hyper-dorsiflexion that causes some folks so much discomfort in their feet and toes. Once in position with the kettlebell in the rack position, sink into your back hip and drop it like a squat. Switch legs after completing desired number of repetitions.

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Trail Running Exercise #2: Unilateral Steel Club Swing

One of the challenges of running in general, and especially trail running, is maintaining running form over long distances. As the core breaks down, the rest of the body is forced to take up the slack resulting in unwanted rotation, flexion/extension and increased risk of injury.

Unilateral Steel Club Swings are an excellent dynamic core stabilization exercise. This one exercise addresses all the major core stability concerns of runners: avoiding torque/twisting, avoiding lumbar flexion, avoiding thoracic flexion, and avoiding pelvic rotation.

Trail Running Exercise #3: Steel Mace Staggered Stance Paddle Swing

, or you’re doing the Steel Mace Staggered Stance Paddle Swing.

This is an amazing exercise for developing endurance, balance, stability, and the unavoidable core strength. It builds the arm strength runners need to help traverse hills or pull through the last mile of a killer run.

Trail Running Exercise #4: Bodyweight Low Switch Cossack Squat

Trail running isn’t about just putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. Rocks, roots and ruts in the path mean that trail runners are often forced to make sudden lateral movements that test their strength, flexibility and ability to think quickly. The Bodyweight Low Switch Cossack Squat is a sure way to strengthen the hips for lateral movements and increase flexibility.

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Trail Running Exercise #5: Kettlebell Bootstrapper Squats

Trail running has plenty of ups and downs and even though we can’t wait to get past the big climbs, the seemingly easy downhill sections can wreak havoc on the quads. Kettlebell Bootstrapper Squats are a fantastic way to work the hamstring strength and flexibility and also to build eccentric squat strength and endurance for those grueling downhill efforts.

These are performed by getting into a deep squat position while holding a kettlebell upside down by the horns. Keep elbows pressed against inner thighs then straighten your knees out while swinging the kettlebell back until arms are fully extended, keeping contact between elbows and thighs. Peek behind you, and then swing back into squat position. Repeat for as many repetitions as you dare.

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Trail Running Exercise #6: Kettlebell Swing

Because of power and endurance. The end. No matter the question, more Kettlebell Swings is always the answer. There are few exercises that are easier, safer or more brutally effective than the Kettlebell Swing. So do them. A lot.

Megan Griffith and her husband, Chad, own Kinetic Fitness and Training in Northwestern North Carolina. Megan earned a degree in Foods and Nutrition, and holds an ACSM personal training certification. She is also a mother of three, and has used her experiences balancing the demands of raising a family while furthering her education and career and maintaining and improving her fitness to help her clients do the same. Megan is seeking several advanced certifications and says her greatest accomplishments are yet to come!
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