The autumn is the perfect time to make the most of the limited daylight hours by swapping urban running for off-road trails and paths. Running off road is much kinder on your muscles, bones and joints as the level of impact is reduced and it’s a great way to build leg strength. However your body needs to be pretty strong in the first place to withstand the rougher ride on the softer stuff. With that in mind, here are some top tips to make your body more robust:
The uneven and softer nature of off road terrain requires the muscles, tendons and ligaments in your ankles to be super strong because they control your foot plant. One of the simplest, yet most effective ways to strengthen your ankles is to use a wobble board or cushion. Start by standing on both legs and then progress to a single leg stand as you become more confident. Aim to maintain your balance for 2-3 sets of 10-30 seconds.
Your quads are one of the biggest muscle groups in the body and you’ll certainly need them for tackling hills. Walking lunges are great for working on your quad and glute strength, as well as challenging your balance and dynamic flexibility.
Keeping your head and chest up, switch on your core muscles and take a wide step. Drop your back knee towards the floor. Be sure that your knee and ankle on your forward leg remain in alignment. Using your glutes, drive your hips through and take the next forward step.
Strong hamstrings are essential for off road running as they help extend your hip to enable you to drive off the uneven or soft ground. To improve your hamstring strength, try some Swiss Ball curls. Lie on your back and place both feet on a Swiss Ball. Lift your hips so that just your shoulders remain in contact with the ground. Using your hamstrings, slowly roll the ball towards your bottom and then roll it back to your starting position and repeat. Aim to build up to three sets of 10.
A strong and stable core is essential if you are going to experience a rougher ride underfoot. To get cracking on your core, try this great exercise:
Place your elbows on a Swiss Ball and assume a plank position. Brace your abs and then move one knee as close to your chest as possible. Don’t allow your back to sag as you raise your knee. Return to the starting position and then raise the opposite knee. Alternate back and forth. If you don’t have a Swiss Ball, you can try the exercise on a bench or a chair instead. Aim to build up to three sets of 30 seconds.
Your body’s balance and proprioception (your ability to detect changes in position and movement) will definitely be challenged on uneven paths and trails. Practice tuning in to your body’s sense of balance by standing on one leg with your eyes closed.
Your glutes play a crucial role in leg stability, which is vital when running on softer, uneven terrain. Weak glutes invariably lead to poor form and eventually injury. To get those glutes firing, try the ‘runner touch’ exercise:
Start in a textbook running position, with one knee held high at 90 degrees to your torso. Balancing on one leg, bend forward slowly from the hip to touch the toe with the opposite hand. Make sure that the standing leg stays stable and prevent the knee from collapsing into the midline. To do this you will need to switch on your glutes. Return to the running position without losing your balance. For added strength you can do this exercise whilst holding a dumbbell or a kettlebell. Try three sets of 8-10 reps.
When running on uneven terrain, the small muscles in your foot have to work harder to generate force and control your stability. The easiest way to strengthen your feet naturally is to simply kick off your shoes and socks and walk around barefoot when at home.
Super strong calf muscles are a must if your feet are to withstand the extra torsion created when running off road. Try some simple calf raises to give your calves a workout. Stand on a step with your heels hanging over the edge. Rise up onto your tip toes and then concentrate on lowering your heels slowly back to the starting position. Once you have mastered lowering on both legs you can progress to single leg. Aim to build up to three sets of fifteen reps.
If you’re going to hit the trails then good stability around the hips and pelvis is essential to help maintain balance and avoid injury. You can build pelvic stability by performing a simple bridging exercise. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Lift your hips so that just your shoulders remain in contact with the ground. Squeeze your glutes and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat this 10 times.
The rough nature of natural terrain means that your knees have to work harder to stabilise. To prepare your knees for the demands of off road, try some simple squats. Stand with your feet hip width apart and keeping a tall spine, push your bottom back and squat to a range that feels comfortable.
Originally posted 2015-11-13 11:53:56.