If you want to get more out of your run-more muscle firming, more calorie burning, more stunning views to soak in-take it off-road. “Pounding pavement can make you a good runner, but taking on trails can turn you into an athlete,” says David Roche, a running coach and ultra runner in Palo Alto, California. “On a normal trail run, you’ll be leaping over sticks and logs, climbing steep hills, and sprinting around switchbacks. The movements are diverse, so your body gets stronger, more agile, and skilled at propelling in multiple directions rather than just forward,” he says. And all those mini challenges recruit more muscle fibers.
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.
Once we begin to look at the pros and cons of different forms of exercise, here’s why I say that trail running is one of the best:
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.