Trail Running: A Challenge in the Terrain

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By Dr. Sender Deutsch
Published on July 9, 2015

Summer is the perfect time to train outdoors! Instead of doing cardio in the gym on a treadmill, elliptical or stair climber, you could be enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery outside. Trail running, or running on grass is much softer and easier on our joints. Our bodies were designed to walk and run through nature as our ancestors used to do while hunting and gathering.

Compared to the indoor equipment, the grass, sand or trails challenge our bodies to be well balanced to the uneven surfaces and is much more natural for landing purposes. There are fewer ground reaction forces travelling up from our feet to our knees and hips because of the softer surfaces which can help decrease the risk of arthritis pain. As well, due to the softer grounds, we are able to run faster, using less strides, which has been shown by research to reduce the force being transferred to the joints as they come in contact with the ground.

Another benefit to running on grass, gravel roads or trails; the terrain is constantly changing. This forces our bodies to use different muscles to balance and stabilize our bodies reducing the risk of repetitive strain injuries. The various muscle firing patterns help reduce the forces on the muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Pre-trail Running

It is important to be well balanced before attempting to run on trails since there are various obstacles that will challenge your proprioceptive system. Make sure you can
balance for a minimum of 10 to 20 seconds on one leg with your eyes closed.

Many people often complain that running injures their knees and joints. As you have read, the best option is to choose natural surfaces that help preserve the body and limit the forces transmitted through the feet. before tempting these off road surfaces. Try running on a track, which is a smooth predictable surface. Build up your balance, strength and core prior to attempting more of the unstable surfaces.

Try: Running more on the forefoot with a soft landing and use more of the calf muscle.

“Motion is lotion” is a term I often use for patients. Running is a natural way to help move the joints of the body and increase synovial fluid which helps prevent stiff and tight joints. Running is also a great exercise to increase bone density due to the high impact. It burns a greater amount of calories per distance because of the weight bearing effect.

Our bodies were meant to move, and there is no better feeling than using our natural abilities to create human motion and locomotion. Remember; before starting any exercise program to check with your doctor and do a proper warm-up to prepare the body for the movements to come. Start with 10-20 walking lunges, butt kicks, high knees, toe touches and ankle circles to prepare the body for what’s to come.