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Trail Running Can Prevent Injuries. Say What!?

by: Janae Richardson

When we think about the topic of injury prevention a lot of things come to mind…icing, massage, foam rollers, strengthening exercises, etc.  What if I told you trail running could also be added to this injury prevention list? Say what!?  I know right now you are picturing rolling your ankle, tripping over a rock or root, falling off a steep cliff, or running into a rattle snake.  While these are all possible risks of trail running, one could contend that while running on the roads you could just as easily trip over a curb or pothole, get bit by a dog, or even hit by a car.  The truth is, trail running has some definite injury prevention benefits and here’s why…

  1. The variability in terrain helps build stronger stabilizing muscles. 

The even, paved surfaces we encounter during road running doesn’t require the muscles and joints to work as hard to stabilize and balance the demands being put on our bodies.  Instead of the same rhythmic, repetitive, and dominating forward plane of motion we lock into during road running, the uneven ground of trail running requires our body to make minute adjustments in more than one plane of motion.  This requires more work from stabilizing muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This in turn, increases strength and joint stability, which is essential for injury prevention.

  1. Running up hills can be a form of very specific strength training.

The odds are that if you are running on trails you are going to run into a hill climb or two (or 20).  While this may sound a little daunting the results are worth it.  Running hills can build a lot of strength.  Because we are working against gravity as we run up a hill our leg muscles have to recruit more muscle fibers to make the climb.  This is similar to the adaptations your muscles have to make in order to do a weighted squat in a weight room, but so much better because running hills is strengthening the exact muscles we use while running. Why? Because we are actually running up the hills of course!  Echoing point number one, this increased strength and stability can help us avoid injuries.

  1. Many running injuries are repetitive stress injuries caused by the same exact motion and wear and tear, over and over again. 

Running on trails helps to reduce the repetition because we are constantly making minute adjustments to our stride.  Sometimes this is from shortening our stride to avoid obstacles on the trail (root, rock, etc.) or switching directions as the trail winds back and forth, or adjustments as we encounter uneven terrain.  The variation in the terrain and the variation in our stride help to distribute impact forces differently so the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones aren’t always taking the hit in exactly the same way.  This distribution of impact forces decreases the repetitive stress on the lower legs and helps to reduce the risk of injury.

Whether it be increasing stability and strength, or distributing impact forces differently, trail running has some definite benefits when it comes to injury prevention.  If you are considering adding trail running to your training regiment, it is best to start with 1-2 days during the week and build from there.  Don’t be surprised if the first couple times out leave you a little more sore than usual.  Remember you are requiring a little more from your muscles and joints than you would on even, paved surfaces.  However, the adaptations from this type of stress are worth it as it leaves you a stronger runner.

Trail running can prevent injuries you say?! That’s right!

Janae Richardson


Runner, USATF Certified Coach, Co-founder of UtahRunning.com 

Janae Richardson is a homemaker, runner, coach, and co-founder of UtahRunning.com.  She graduated from Weber State University with a Bachelors Degree in History Teaching and PE/Coaching.  Janae is a Level 1 Certified USA Track and Field Coach and is pursuing a masters degree in Exercise Science at Utah State University.  She currently coaches cross country at Davis High School (Kaysville, UT) and offers private coaching to runners of all levels.

Career Highlights:


3 years experience teaching U.S. History (2005-2008)

4 years experience teaching Physical Education (2005-2009)


Sand Ridge Junior High Basketball and Track and Field Coach (2005-2008)

Roy High JV Basketball Coach (2006-2009)

Davis High School Cross Country Coach (2007-present)

9th at Nike Team Nationals Davis High School Girls Cross Country 2007

State Champions Davis High School Girls Cross Country Team 2007, 2008

2nd Place at State Davis High School Girls Cross Country Team 2009


2 years experience managing a specialty running shoe store

Janae competed in cross country and track at Weber State University.  Since college, she has completed three marathons (Top of Utah, St. George, and Chicago), several half-marathons, and many local 5Ks and 10Ks.  A healthy lifestyle and running have become a permanent part of Janae’s life and she enjoys sharing her passion for running with others.

Athletic Accomplishments:

Mile:  5:15

2 Mile:  11:14

Steeplechase:  10:49

5K:  17:01

10K:  35:30 (Weber State Top Ten List)

Half Marathon:  1:21:50 Salt Lake Half 2010

Marathon: 2:59:53 St. George Marathon 2006

Janae grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho where she graduated from Hillcrest High School.  She met her husband, Ken, while competing at WSU.  They currently reside in Ogden, Utah with their daughter and son.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 6th, 2017 at 1:13 pm and is filed under Injuries and Pain, Injury Prevention, Trail Running, Training, Training Plans. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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