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Trail skills: the building blocks for better running

Trail skills: the building blocks for better running

Many runners believe that because running is a primal instinct, there is no real skill involved. Just like any other sport, technique can have a drastic effect on your running performance. Focusing on skill will give you greater confidence and improve your ability to navigate difficult trail, sometimes to your advantage during a race.

When I started running trail, I didn’t think about skill at all, I just started slow and allowed the trails to teach me. Now that I am fortunate enough to introduce other people to trail running, I realise how a little guidance can help a new trail runner gain confidence in their running.

When it comes to trail skills, I like to keep it simple. To become more skilled at trail running, you only need to focus on 5 basic principles. Once you understand the principles, you can develop your skills by performing technique drills to re-enforce motor patterns and learning.

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  1. Learn to lift your feet. The smallest rocks and roots usually cause the biggest falls. We all have the scars to prove it. Avoid tripping by lifting your feet, especially towards the end of a run, when you’re getting tired and starting to lose concentration.

Practice: Pick-up drill & Jumping Rope

  1. Faster feet. Shorten your stride and quicken your feet over technical downhill sections. Imagine yourself running on ice; if you over-stride with your foot too far in front, you will slip and land on your backside. Practice to land under your centre of mass.

Practice: Fast-feet Drill & Speed Ladder Drill

  1. Work on becoming a stronger hiker. Trail running involves a lot of hiking. All the big races usually come with big mountains and unless you’re Kílian Jornet, you will be hiking uphill, not running.

Practice: Weighted Step-ups

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  1. Use your arms for balance, steering and driving power. Use your arms to balance and steer you on the downhill and over technical sections. Your arms are the steering wheel that drives your legs. Allan Besselink explains this in his book, RunSmart:

The arms will help to control the rotational movements of the lower body. The arms are made for fine motor control and is therefor easier to place in space. It’s much easier to think about the arms and their position in space than it is to do so with the legs. Therefor, in order to change the movement of your lower body – optimise the upper body!

Relax and let your arms do what feels natural.

A powerful arm swing will help propel your legs. Because your upper and lower body counter-rotates on each other during running and the trunk and core acts as a natural torque converter, a powerful arm swing will increase power output to your legs.

Practice: Elbow Punches

  1. Become a jumper: Plyometric exercises are proven to improve speed, vertical jump and
    endurance. Plyometric exercises also teach you to better control your landing from a height. We are after all always jumping over rocks, streams and sometimes, snakes. With plyometric exercises, always focus on jumping high and landing softly.

Practice: Box jumps, High skips & Bounding

Whether you are an elite or novice runner, better skills will URimage2result in better performance and running on trail is still the best way to improve your skills. Practice until you find yourself in sync with nature, floating over obstacles and becoming one with the trail.

Happy Running

Tarrin

Tarrin van Niekerk

Physiotherapist and Blogger at Running Clinic & UltraRunner ZA
I am a Physiotherapist with a special interest in running injury prevention.I enjoy running in all its forms; but I am happiest in the mountains.I believe in empowering runners by teaching them self-management and injury-prevention strategies. You have all the answers as to why you have pain, I just know how to ask the right questions.I am a fan of common sense and the best current available evidence.

You can find me at:
tarrin@runningclinic.co.za
071 685 2235
Practice: Lifestyle Management Park
Unit 4, Second Floor, Suite 224
Clifton Ave, Lyttelton, Centurion
012 664 6128

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About The Author

I am a Physiotherapist with a special interest in running injury prevention. I enjoy running in all its forms; but I am happiest in the mountains. I believe in empowering runners by teaching them self-management and injury-prevention strategies. You have all the answers as to why you have pain, I just know how to ask the right questions. I am a fan of common sense and the best current available evidence. You can find me at: tarrin@runningclinic.co.za 071 685 2235 Practice: Lifestyle Management Park Unit 4, Second Floor, Suite 224 Clifton Ave, Lyttelton, Centurion 012 664 6128

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