The unknown benefits of trail running you must know

24 Feb, 2019 • by Admin

While this may not be practical every day – especially if you live in an urban area – you can certainly make trail running a fun weekly activity if you plan ahead

Exercise can provide a plethora of health benefits from improving our brain function and emotional well-being to developing our physiology.

But any individual type of exercise won’t provide every single benefit of exercise in general. Specific activities will provide some benefits but not others. For example, running strengthens your legs but not to the same degree as does weightlifting. Similarly, certain types of weightlifting can improve cardiovascular function but not as much as aerobic exercise.


There’s a certain purity to the trail running compared to other activities. Equipment doesn’t matter as much as other sports. It’s just you and the natural environment. (Try riding a bike without a bike.)

In our consumer culture it’s easy to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars trying to improve your health and fitness. Trail running can fall into this same trap as much as any other form of exercise. From Gore-tex shoes to GPS watches to packs made of space age material to race fees the costs can add up quickly.

But stripped down to the essentials all you really need is a pair of running shoes. Maybe a water bottle if you’re running long enough. That’s it.

Further, there are no membership fees. It doesn’t cost anything to use trails, unless you have to pay park fees to access a trail. Adding up the economic cost, trail running is relatively cheap compared to many other forms of exercise making it affordable for many people.

Skill Level

From a skill perspective trail running is accessible by most people. Running was an important evolutionary development so it’s a skill virtually everyone is able to do. Even the most nonathletic couch potato can run, at least for a short distance.

If your goal is to compete in races it will take time to develop the fitness and skill required to do well and reach your potential. But from a health perspective, you don’t need to win races or even race at all to reap the benefits.

Compared to other activities such as skiing or Olympic weightlifting which require more time to develop technical proficiency, trail running comes out ahead.

Overall Physical Benefits

Running in general strengthens the heart and cardiovascular system; to a certain extent it strengthens the legs; it improves bone density of the legs and hips and it helps you maintain a healthy weight.

Trail running does this and more. It will strengthen the legs to a greater degree than road running.

Take a look at the image below comparing the elevation profile of the Knee Knacker 30 mile trail run, a local Vancouver ultramarathon, to the Boston marathon.


The Boston marathon is often touted as being difficult due to the net downhill profile of the course. But compared to the the elevation change in the Knee Knacker which has 8,000′ of climbing and 8,300′ of descent, it’s minuscule.

The average Knee Knacker participant can expect to take at least twice as long as to complete this trail run as they would to run a marathon even though the distance is only four miles longer.

Climbing mountains will build strength in the legs but it’s actually the downhill running that will do more for strength than uphill running. When running downhill runners can experience forces up to five times their body weight with each footstep. Running on level ground or going uphill the forces are “only” two to three times body weight.

Downhill running also involves eccentric loading of the leg muscles particularly the quads (thighs). This means the muscle is lengthening as it’s contracting. Eccentric contraction cause more muscle damage than regular contractions thus signalling the body to become stronger.

In effect, trail running provides better strength training benefits for the legs compared to road running.

Trail running also challenges coordination, agility and balance more so than running on roads, especially if running on technical trails full of rocks, roots and uneven terrain. Avoiding falls, negotiating steep slopes, cutting around sharp corners and landing on unstable surfaces all help build athleticism in trail runners.

Improvements to Cognitive & Emotional Health

This is the category where trail running really excels when compared to other forms of exercise. “Green” exercise or working out in the outdoors offers many benefits you can’t get in the gym. In our wired world full of electronic devices getting a run in nature is a great way to reduce the mental stress from being connected 24-7.


  • Improve your mental health.
  • Increase vitality, energy and positive engagement.
  • Reduce tension, confusion, anger and depression.
  • Provide greater enjoyment and satisfaction so you’re more likely to repeat the activity at a later date.
  • Make you more creative.


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