Unless you have been living under a rock, I am quite sure you have witnessed the recent trail running craze. People are getting off the roads and into forests and mountains to enrich their physical fitness with minds’ tranquillity and they are right in doing so.
Trail running is a very natural form of movement, integrating an extensive list of muscle groups, developing balance and mental focus; at the same time providing the ultimate relaxation. Whatever sport discipline is your obsession, trail running and hill running in particular, can have superb effects on your lower half.
Why is cardio training important?
Regardless of the sport you are into, you should ideally incorporate a portion of cardio (aerobic) training in to your weekly regime. 20-30 minutes of some light sustained rhythmical activity that elevates your heart rate, works well both as a warm-up preventing injury and contributes to building your overall fitness and enhancing cardiovascular health. Trail running is an excellent and a very fun form of cardio exercise.
The Upside of Trail Running
To begin with, trail running is a very low impact form of running. Softer more technical ground requires more careful feet placement and better running technique, having lower impact on your joints. Uneven ground and varying incline/decline with occasional obstacles makes you adjust your stride and feet placement, incorporating different muscle groups, support and balance structures. This is highly valuable for your lower legs and feet, especially, if you are used to highly supported footwear. Trail and hill running will make your calves, ankles and feet stronger which will help prevent injuries.
It is also a more dynamic form of running involving most of major muscle groups, making it into a really fun full body exercise. Trail running is not only about uniform stride at the right pace; there is also substantial support from your core and upper body, development of balance and reaction; all in a form of a beautiful dance.
What muscle groups do hills work?
Now that we’ve touched on the wide assortment of benefits, let’s discuss how hill running might help you build stronger legs.
Running uphill can be viewed as running with resistance; the upwards and forwards motion is much more intense than running on flat surfaces, requiring a lot of strength. The incline utilizes calf-muscles to propel forward motion also engaging hamstrings, gluteus maximus, abdominal muscles and quadriceps.
Unlike strength-training exercises, hill and trail running burns a lot of calories, resulting in strong, lean legs. If you want to increase the size of leg muscle, you should adjust your diet accordingly, focusing on consuming more calories and protein.
Hill repeats are an example of an excellent hill running workout. Fast and short (30s – 5 min) sprints up some hill with recovery in between helps you build that explosive power and strength in your legs.
An example workout would be to find a relatively steep hill, do a short warm up first, jogging lightly for a few minutes. Then, depending on your level of fitness, goals and experience, do series (4-10 times) of 90-95% effort sprints up a hill for 10s – 60s with 1-3 minute rests in between. You can also do lower effort and longer hill sprints. This type of exercise strengthens all types of your muscle fibers and perfects your running stride, also developing your connective tissue.
It is important to give your legs time to adjust, if you are considering starting training. Sudden increase in a different form of intense physical activity can be especially hard on your tendons and ligaments.
Downhill running requires your legs to absorb 4-5 times the force of your weight, and even though it might not feel so, it will result in a great deal of strength being built. Quadriceps is the main muscle group that gets activated, when you are striding downhill.
However, you should be aware that running downhill is a high impact activity for your joints and a good technique is required to decrease the potential damage. To decrease stress for joints and increase your running efficiency, let “gravity do the work”, rolling over each of your step, rather than braking with straight legs.
In conclusion, trail running and hill running is the perfect cardio exercise and an excellent way to strengthen both your legs and feet. By incorporating some trail and hill running into your weekly training schedule you will provide an excellent leg strengthening opportunity and a full-body balancing exercise.