Top Ten Ways On How To Get Better At Trail Running

By Rick Morris

Running is running no matter where you do it, right? Not necessarily. Every type of running surface presents its own challenges and requires specific strengths. Trail running is no exception. Safe and efficient trail running requires a number of special training techniques and has its own gear needs. Here are our top ten ways on how to get better at trail running.

Strong Wheels

You will be running on trails that range from smooth, groomed cruisers to extreme trails with lots of rocks, roots, dips and drop offs. To safely handle that type of terrain you need strong feet and ankles. Perform lower leg strength training on a consistent basis to build and maintain a good base of foot and ankle strength and stability.

Feel It

You should develop your proprioceptive abilities or a good “feel” for the position of your feet, ankles, legs, hips and your overall balance and body position. You should always intuitively know and automatically react to the terrain under your feet, the angle or position of your feet and your balance. You can develop that ability by actual trail running and during training by working with wobble boards, instability discs and other stability training aids.

Core Up

Constantly maintaining your balance and an efficient stride on changing terrain requires a strong core. Try to perform core strengthening exercises at least two to three times per week to build the strength of your balance and stride maintaining core muscles.

Stride Right

This may seem like a no-brainer. Of course you should stride right. You should be running with an efficient stride and proper mechanics no matter where you run. But, you really need to focus on proper running mechanics on the trail. Run with a compact, light stride with a foot strike directly under your center of gravity to maintain efficiency and minimize your chances of suffering from an injury. Pay particular attention when running downhill. Heel striking on a downhill run will very likely cause or aggravate shin splint problems.

Train for Trails

Unless you live in the mountains you probably don’t run on trails every day. To improve your trail running ability try to train for trails at least once or twice per week. Do some hill training and also some proprioceptive balance training on instability equipment. Don’t forget to include core and lower leg strength training.

Gear Up

If there’s anything I hate worse than running when I’m cold, it’s running when I’m cold and wet. Don’t get caught on the trail in a surprise rain or snow storm. Carry a running jacket, hat and rain gear when you go out for a long training run. Also carry a portable first aid kit, safety gear and identification, just to be on the safe side.

Remember the Fuel

Running up hills, down hills, through streams and over boulders takes a lot of energy. Don’t forget to bring along some energy bars, energy gels or easy to pack high energy foods. It might make your return trip much more enjoyable and efficient. And of course you will need a couple of bottles of sports fluids to stay properly hydrated.

Pack Perfect

Your carrying some additional running clothes, food, fluids and safety gear. You need somewhere to put it. Don’t just grab your hiking backpack. Go with a runners backpack. A pack designed for trail running will fit closer and more securely to your back. It won’t bounce around during your trail run. You can carry your gear and still enjoy your trail run.

Trail Treads

You could wear your road shoes on your trail run. Heck, you could even run barefoot on your trail run if you’ve conditioned yourself to run barefoot. But, running with a good pair of trail shoes can make the difference between an enjoyable day on the trails and a complete disaster. Good trail shoes have a more aggressive tread to help you maintain a good grip on all types of terrain as well as a bit more stability to keep you from rolling an ankle. Many trails shoes are also water resistant or water proof to keep your feet dryer when you run through those streams.


I always like to zone out when I’m doing a long road run. Trail running is another story. Always stay focused and frosty when running on the trails. Run proactively by looking about 20 feet ahead and scanning the upcoming trail. That way you will see and prepare for drop offs, hills, rocks, terrain changes and trail hazards. The first rule of trail running is stay safe.