Any experienced trail runner can tell you that navigating uneven terrain, rapid elevation changes, and battling harsh weather conditions makes trail running a whole different animal than treadmill or street running.
Joint health is something every runner should work to maintain, even more so when regularly running on uneven terrain. It’s crucial to have strong ankles and extra-strong stabilizer muscles to absorb shock, protect joints, and prevent injury.
Running is one of the hardest cardiovascular exercises, but it’s not great for building muscle. To build stabilizers and improve your trail running, you need to incorporate resistance training into your life 2-3x a week. Perform moves that focus on the core and lower body joints, supporting your stride the most.
Here’s our list of the five best exercises to build critical stabilizing muscles and improve your running agility, speed, and performance when you hit the dusty trails.
Incorporating Resistance Bands
The best equipment to use to build your lower body and core are resistance bands. Why?
Unlike weightlifting, resistance bands produce constant tension on your muscles while you use them. Stabilizing muscles work extra hard to support your joints and muscles and maintain proper form through the pressure.
Bands are an inexpensive investment to make and can be used for stretching, balance, and resistance work. For this workout, you’ll need one large-looped resistance band and a mini band set, like this one from Victorem Gear.
Exercise #1: Banded Squats
Works your quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, and calves while building stabilizers in your knees, ankles, and hips.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hips and toes turned slightly out.
- Place a mini band around both legs, just below your knees.
- Lift arms out in front of you until they are parallel to the ground.
- Hinge at the hips and bend down into a squat position and keep the core tight to protect your lower back.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
Exercise #2: Resistance Band Deadlift
Works your hamstrings, glutes, backs, and lat muscles and builds stabilizers in your hips.
- Stand the arches of your feet on one end of a large-looped resistance band. Grab the other end of the loop in each hand. Face your palms in toward your thighs.
- Hinge forward and bend down, keeping your legs with a very slight bend in the knee. Keep your back in one straight line and clench your abs to support your lower back.
- Move your arms down along your legs toward the ground. Stop just short of your hands touching the ground.
- Slowly return to the starting point.
Exercise #3: Banded Star Jacks
Works your glutes, quadriceps, hip flexors, and stabilizers of your ankles, knees, and hips.
- Place a mini band around both of your ankles and stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Jump both feet out to your sides, keeping knees soft. Lift both arms sideways and up over your head.
- Return to starting position and repeat.
Exercise #4: Banded Plank
Works your abs, glutes, shoulders, and back as well as stabilizers in all of your joints.
Reps: 1 hold for 30-60 seconds
- Grab one end of a looped resistance band in each hand and lift the band overhead and behind your back.
- Get down on an exercise mat in a pushup position. Straighten your arms. Keep your core tight and neck in line with your spine. Don’t allow your hips to drop or lift out of line with the rest of your body.
- Hold for 30 seconds. Build up to holding for 60 seconds in each set.
Exercise #5: Banded Ankle Distraction
Works your ankle stabilizers and calves.
Reps: 1 hold for 30 seconds
- Secure one end of a looped band to a fixed object, like a heavyweight machine, or closed under a door.
- Place your right ankle in the other end of the loop, right at the curve where the foot meets the leg. Facing outward, walk away from the door until the band is tight.
- Keeping the tension on the band throughout the move, bend your right knee over the ankle.
- Hold for up to 30 seconds. Repeat on the left side when finished.
A few times a week, performing these moves strengthens those crucial muscles to improve your trail runs and prevent common injuries like ankle sprains and knee pain from repetitive motion.
You can also incorporate your bands into dynamic stretching and to assist with mobility work.