What Happens To Your Body When You Start Trail Running

Running is a great way to work up a sweat and burn calories, but it can get monotonous. If you want to break the boredom of footing your same route and boost your workout challenge, you might want to try trail running. Unlike running on a treadmill, around a track, or along the paved roads of your neighborhood, taking this exercise off-road on uneven ground in varying landscapes can boost your mood and help push your body to work harder (via Verywell Fit).

That's because trail running often requires navigating unpredictable terrain. "Pounding pavement can make you a good runner, but taking on trails can turn you into an athlete," David Roche, a running coach and ultra runner in Palo Alto, California, told Shape. On a typical trail run, Roche explains, "you'll be leaping over sticks and logs, climbing steep hills, and sprinting around switchbacks." And all that variety of movement works wonders for conditioning the body.

Benefits of trail running

Wherever you run, you'll get the benefit of improved cardiovascular health. That's because running will get your heart pumping and increase your heart rate, which in turn strengthens your heart muscle, or myocardium, and reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease. Running trails has the added benefit of improving balance and building leg strength that the varied terrain provides to work stabilizer muscles. Plus, running on a softer surface reduces the impact on the joints (via Verywell Fit). 

Going off the beaten path for a run even helps improve your mental health. Research has shown that there is an association between trail running and mental well-being. A 2020 study published in BMC Public Health found that participants who ran up to 6.5 miles per week on outdoor trails self-reported higher rates of health and wellness. Although the scope of the study is limited, it still supports the results of earlier research.