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6 Best Strength Exercises for Trail Runners

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Your trail running preparation isn’t just limited to the great outdoors, and you can add in some specific strength and conditioning exercises into your home or gym routine. The focus of these exercises will be on the quads, glutes, and ankles.

1. Step-Downs (and Step-Ups)

This exercise develops powerful quads for stronger hill climbing. It will also help with ankle stability.

Start first with a low height (no more than a six-inch step or the bottom step of your stairs at home). Stand on top of the step. Using one leg at a time, step down to the floor with one foot, and immediately step down with the other foot, then return to the starting position on top of the step. Continue doing this for 10 reps, then alternate the starting leg, and repeat for three rounds total. These mimics the action of your stride moving downhill with your front leg lowering first and stabilizing the knee and hip of the back leg.

You can reverse this to be Step-ups as well – see how they differ for you and the muscles they work. You can work up to using dumbbells in this move.

2. Squats

This exercise works the glutes, hamstrings, and quads (quads are the primary muscles used for running uphill).

While holding dumbbells and keeping your feet shoulder width apart, shift your weight to your heels as you lower into a seated position. Keep your eyes forward and descend until your hamstrings are parallel to the ground before you stand back up. Do 25 reps at a controlled pace. If this is too difficult to begin with you can do it without dumbbells.

3. Deadlift

This exercise works the glutes, hamstrings, and calves, which give you stability and control on downhills.

Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Bend at the waist and knees and pick up a pair of dumbbells from the floor. As you stand up, pinch your shoulder blades together. Then lower back down, tapping the dumbbells on the ground before standing back up. Do 25 reps at a controlled pace.

If you prefer you can do a Romanian Deadlift.

4. Forward Lunge

This exercise builds stability and strength that helps you maintain good running form while going up and down.

Start with your feet pointing straight ahead and holding dumbbells. Step forward with your left foot, then bend the left knee until the hamstring is parallel to the floor. Your right knee should touch or come just above the ground. To avoid injury, make sure the left knee stays behind the toes. Step back up and repeat on the other side. Complete 20 total reps, alternating legs.

If you find this changing you can complete a reverse lunge instead.

5. Single Leg Calf Raises

This exercise will help strengthen your ankles and calf muscles. Balance on one leg while doing a calf raise. If it is too difficult to do on just one leg, then start out using both feet until your balance increases. Stand close to a wall or railing for support. Start with 6 repetitions and increase from there.

6. Toe Walks

This exercise also works on ankle strength and stability and has the added benefit of being able to be done anywhere.

Come up and balance on your toes as high as you can and walk forward and backward for a set amount of time in each direction. Start with 30 seconds in each direction and increase time from there.

Add in toe walking side to side for added stability training.

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