Exercise for your feet

5. July 2017

Although there are now Swiss Championships in trail running, there is no precise definition for it in mass sports - the boundaries are blurred. Trail running quite simply begins where the asphalt ends! The most important tips.

Define your aspiration: What is your own personal definition of trail running? Are you simply looking for variety in your training? Or are you planning to compete in a mountain run or adventure run in the long-term? Consider your motives as to why and how you want to start trail running. You can then consequently plan your running tours off the tar roads.

Choose the right shoes: As on the roads, there is no ONE best shoe, but only the right one for your foot that is adapted to the terrain. Light trail running shoes allow direct contact with the ground and are equipped with a non-slip sole and robust upper material. In general, trail running shoes are equipped with less cushioning than road shoes. Thus: the thinner the midsole and outsole and the more agile the shoe, the more acutely your feet feel the uneven ground (stones/gravel). And watch out when wearing waterproof shoes: the greater the protection against moisture (membrane), the stiffer the upper material and the more restricted the breathability.

Gain initial experience: You don’t need to cross the Alps to take your first off-road steps – incorporating short trail sections into your normal training session should be enough. Discover how strongly the unpaved ground impacts your feet and your entire balance in general when running.

Try out different types of ground: Get to know the different types of ground and cautiously approach any difficult terrain (trails with mixed roots, gravel). Make sure you don’t twist your ankle!

Strengthen your muscles: The foot needs to work more on uneven ground, so the foot muscles should be correspondingly well trained. You can strengthen your feet by doing simple exercises at home in front of the TV or also by skipping for 5 minutes each day. And as with running, the following generally applies: a strong trunk contributes to a good running technique, so it should also be strengthened on a regular basis.

Practice your running technique: When you improve your coordination skills, there are unimaginable power reserves that you can specifically train. Agile off-road running not only makes you faster, but also more sure-footed. You can improve your running technique with running school exercises such as rope jumping, kicking your heels towards your buttocks, running sideways, criss cross jumps, hopping, etc. Jumping playfully around in the terrain (e.g. hopping from stone to stone in a stream bed or from root to root on a mixed trail or hopping exercises on a Vita Parcours (fitness course)) does a huge amount of good for your proprioception and coordination. It’s important that you always stay focused.

Equipment in the mountains: When it comes to equipment and orientation, make sure you carefully plan your longer runs in the mountains well in advance. Note the necessary safety aspects and the rapidly changing weather conditions. When embarking on longer trail run in the mountains, take a backpack with a change of clothes and a jacket with you. Hook up with groups or join a running camp.

Find your way safely: GPS devices, smartphones or multifunctional sports watches have opened up new and unexpected opportunities for tech-savvy trail runners over the past few years. However, maps, compasses and the Swiss Hiking Federation sign posts also provide good orientation. Plan your chosen route in advance and equip yourself accordingly. 

Adapt your training: It’s not so easy to control your heart beat when trail running. The reason: the terrain itself already challenges the runner in completely different ways, and a constant change in speed and thus intensity is inevitable. Certain forms of training, such as a slower base run or running at a constant speed are practically impossible and make little sense in hilly terrain. For this reason, even experienced trail runners should seek out flat forest trails or roads and tracks for certain units or the preparatory phases. The most important training rule is: use the entire band width that your heart has to offer! Each pulse segment has its strengths and weaknesses. Try to run at all levels of intensity on a regular basis and set individual goals according to your ambition and timing. 

4 specific types of training for trail running 

Incorporate specific exercises into your usual running training now and again that are beneficial to trail running in particular. 4 examples:

Training 1: Forest running combined with barefoot running on a lawn
Choose your running lap in such a way that you end it running on a lawn (football pitch, school grounds). First do an endurance run on a “tar-free” lap for around 40-50 minutes at a medium tempo and then do about 20 minutes of technique exercises barefoot on a meadow (e.g. skipping, rope jumping, kicking your buttocks, running sideways, running backwards, short sprint runs, etc.)

Training 2: Endurance running with single trail sections
Incorporate a section on a root-covered path into your running lap that you can playfully run back and forth on several times. Hop from one root to the next and try to balance out the unevenness as smoothly and safely as possible with your feet and the movements of your upper body. Carefully increase this so you don’t lose your footing.

Training 3: Endurance running with intermittent rope jumping
Simply tie a skipping rope around your hips and off you go. During a 60-minute endurance run, stop every 5-10 minutes and do 100 rope jumps and continue running again.

Training 4: Vita Parcours with hopping and strength exercises
Find a Vita Parcours fitness trail near you and combine running training with hopping and strength exercises at the individual posts. Either perform the exercises according to the specified guidelines or make up your own exercises focusing on your foot, leg and core strength.