6 techniques to help your trail running

Majell Backhausen is an Endurance Coach and Elite Athlete for Salomon, Suunto and Compressport, and an an advocate for simplicity, patience and longevity in the sport of trail running and outdoor pursuits.

When it comes to running, you want to be one step ahead of the game. Whether you're new to trail running or need a refresher, these six techniques can help you understand and better your trail running style.

1. Find the right cadence

The right cadence or rhythm will improve your running form, efficiency, and eventually your speed.

  • Foot placement is key, aim to strike your foot below your centre of gravity.
  • Optimal cadence is about 180 foot strikes or steps per minute with both your left and right food combined. To measure this, aim to strike either your foot at least 30 times in 20 seconds. To increase cadence, shorten your stride length by a third for each step.

2. Master the Uphill

  • Lean in. You want to mirror the gradient of the hill by leaning forward from your ankles. Allow gravity and momentum to assist your movement uphill.
  • Maintain a quick and light candence — even if it means needing to shorten your stride. Relax your shoulders, arms and your non-engaged leg. Tension is an inefficient use of your energy.
  • Your arm swing, steps and breathing should be in equal motion to your cadence. If you’re running a long-distance trail, hiking with a strong purpose will often be far more effective.
  • Experiment with poles as they can help you move more effectively and keep you balanced.
Maintain a quick and light cadence
Maintain a quick and light cadence

3. Build confidence on the downhill

  • Keep relaxed, remember to breathe and maintain momentum.
  • Raise your eyesight and try to look ahead. Looking at your feet will slow you down.
  • Work towards looking 4-5 steps ahead of you, this will keep your thoughts focused on what you're doing
  • Keep your running cadence high, don’t overreach your steps and ensure your feet fall beneath you.
  • Take the outside line through corners to move smoothly and to maintain speed.
  • Accept the forward fall and keep moving with it.
  • Allow your arms to move freely, this will counter balance your legs.
  • Remember that confidence will come with regular practice

4. Get to know the trail

  • Build confidence by repetitively running technical trails. Start slow and easy, but be persistent.
  • Keep your body relaxed, with your limbs (arms and legs) loose and reactive.
  • Strengthen your lower legs with drills such as skipping, hopping, step-ups and balancing on one leg.
  • Pay attention, don't get sidetracked or let your mind wander. Tripping and falling can happen before you realise it.

5. Equip yourself properly for night running

  • Get a good head torch. Aim to brighten your dark surroundings as similar to daylight as possible. You will see better, move faster and build better confidence.
  • Your head torch should be comfortable, rechargeable, fit you properly and have a high lumen count.
  • Run with a group for better safety. Whether in a group or alone, always tell someone where you plan to go.
For safety reasons, run with a group when the sun goes down
For safety reasons, run with a group when the sun goes down

6. Ensure consistency

The number one technique to improve your trail running is consistency in your training.

  • Follow a structured program and allow enough time for recovery.
  • You will earn far more benefits if you run four times per week for 20 minutes, opposed to running once a week for 80 minutes.
  • Consistency establishes a good running and exercise habit. Start small and take it one day at a time.