6 Surprising Health Benefits of Trail Running

With so many fantastic benefits of trail running, it's no wonder that the sport is really taking off!

6 Surprising Health Benefits of Trail Running

India Lewis
  • Post by India Lewis
  • Last updated: March 1, 2018

Running on the road sucks!

…There I said it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to admit that there’s certainly a time and a place for road running but my heart will always belong to the dusty, less traveled trails.

4 years ago I came to an astonishing conclusion, I was sick and tired of chasing the next personal best half marathon time and training had become a chore rather than a pleasure.

I even denied myself the delights of beer and pizza in order to shed those final few pounds, all in the hope of buying myself a couple of extra seconds.

The result, predictably, was complete burnout.

I became sick of running.

A friend noticed that my Strava account hadn’t been updated for a few weeks so she reached out to ask if something was wrong.

6 miles I scoffed, a breeze!

Well, it turns out 6 miles on a wet, hilly trail is quite different to 6 miles of flat out and back!

My legs had never felt lactic acid build up like that before, my lungs had never worked as hard…

I was instantly hooked on trail running.

Benefits of Trail Running For Your Health

While we all know that trail running is fantastic fun, in today’s post we’re going to take a look at six surprising benefits of trail running for your health.

1: Build a Strong, Stable Core

Running is naturally good for your core because you have to maintain a proper, upright posture even when you are tired in order to ensure an optimal flow of oxygen.

The better your posture when you’re running, the stronger your core becomes.

When we talk about ‘core muscles’, you might be thinking of washboard abs and wonder how that’s going to help you as a runner.

The truth is that core muscles are so much more than that.

Your core muscles extend into your hips and legs helping to power your lower body.

The problem with running on a flat surface (like the road), is that there’s a limit to how much you can challenge your core muscles.

Trail running provides an extra challenge to your core muscles because the uneven terrain has you constantly shifting your center of balance in order to keep yourself upright.

This not only strengthens your core but also makes you more stable both on and off the trail.

Your core muscles will look more toned and nothing will be able to knock you off balance.

To build a bulletproof core, you might consider supplementing trail running with a workout program designed to really tighten your muscles up.

2: Ideal for Recovery

Considering the uneven terrain, you might think that road running is easier on your muscles when you need to recover from a hard workout.

After all, the road is flat and you can just pop your headphones in and zone out, there’s not a tripping hazard in sight.

This couldn’t be further from the truth; when your muscles are sore, you should be skipping the roads and opting for nature trails.

The reason that road runs aren’t good for recovery is asphalt and concrete are stressful on your body.

Each time your foot lands it sends a shock through your muscles and joints, causing pain and increasing your risk of injury.

Unpaved trails are lower impact, meaning that trail runs reduce the amount of stress on your aching muscles.

You can recover faster while still getting in your daily run.

3: Develop Stronger Ankles

There is nothing that can derail your fitness goals as a runner faster than a sprained ankle.

To protect themselves from ankle injuries, many athletes rely on compression socks and support clothing (see why so many runners use compression socks for running here.

The problem is, these methods can backfire because the ankles become weaker from lack of use.

The best way to prevent an ankle injury is to strengthen them.

Trail running is a fantastic way to strengthen all of the muscles of the ankle because it requires using muscles that you never have to use when running across a flat surface like a road or a treadmill – all you need are your trail shoes.

No compression or special running socks necessary.

For those new to trail running, you may want to take it slow for your first couple of runs so that your ankles can get used to the uneven ground, but as your ankles get stronger you will find that your confidence increases as well.

4: Reduce Stress

trail running can really help to reduce stress

Most of us know that exercise isn’t just good for our physical health. It is also good for our mental health – regular exercise improves self-esteem and lowers your stress levels.

We’ve all heard about the “runner’s high” that comes afterward a good run – that endorphin rush that gets you addicted to running!

Remember how much you enjoyed those first few trail runs and the relaxation you felt (possible once you had your shoes off and feet up).

Trail running has the additional stress-busting benefit of getting you out into nature.

Recent studies show that urban city-dwelling life is related to higher rates of anxiety and depression. Thankfully, one proven way to reverse that trend is to spend more time in nature.

In fact, a Stanford University study found that a 90-minute nature walk can go a long way towards reducing your stress levels.

By combining regular nature time with the stress-reducing benefits of running, you should start to notice a significant improvement to your mental health.

5: A Breath of Fresh Air for Your Lungs

Getting off of the paved roads and into nature does even more than strengthening little-used muscles and reducing your stress levels.

It also improves the quality of the air that you are breathing into your lungs.

It’s no secret that cities are becoming more and more polluted as cars and machines choke greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

Why breathe in more of that contaminated air than you absolutely have to?

Trail runs are cleaner not only because they typically take place outside of the city, but also because trees and plants purify the air.

You will feel fresher and more energized after a trail run than you would on a road run inside the city because you are taking a break from the pollution and taking in cleaner, fresher air, even if it’s only for an hour or two.

6: Burn More Calories Than Road Running

This last health benefit is a natural culmination of the previous five.

When you strengthen all of your core muscles, reduce your stress levels, and breathe in cleaner air, you can push harder in your workouts.

The end result?

You burn more calories!

The fact of the matter is that a person will burn up to 12% more calories on a trail run than on a road run of the same length and intensity.

This is partly because you have to compensate for a less even space, partly because stronger muscles burn more calories, partly because lower stress levels and purer air increase your energy levels, and partly because being out in nature is just inspiring!

Who knew that trail running was so good for you compared to the road?

It’s not just the health benefits either, trail running offers you the chance to have micro-adventures that you simply don’t get on the road.

While a race on the road will see you dashing past landmarks with barely a second to take in the sights and sounds, when you race in nature, you can’t help be notice the scenery (even if you are eyeballs out).

See, we told you that there were some amazing benefits of trail running – hopefully, this article has inspired you to head out and hit your local trails.

Brooks Running