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Change Your Running Terrain


Mix It Up

Yo, road warriors: Taking it to the trail -- or gravel or grass -- can firm your muscles from abs to calves. We asked Reed Ferber, PhD, the director of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary, how to work in those all-terrain miles without missing a step.

Ease into new territory. "To start, make your off-road miles 10 percent or less of your total weekly running volume," Ferber says. "Increase that distance by no more than 10 percent each week." Begin on a hard-packed trail, and move to more unstable ground, like grass.

Prime your legs. "Your ankle stabilizers have to work harder to keep you balanced," Ferber explains, though your knees and hips take less pounding. Prep by doing calf raises after you run. Start with one set of 20 basic raises (stand with feet shoulder-width apart, lift onto tiptoes for two seconds and lower for two seconds; repeat), increasing up to three sets. Next, do one-legged raises, moving from one to three sets.

Rev your race training. If you're gearing up for a road race, replace one hill or speed workout each week with a trail run, Ferber suggests. (Just stick to pavement for your long runs because those should mimic the surface you plan to compete on.) And hit the grass for warm-ups and speed drills; a study at the University of Sao Paulo found that grass puts up to 17 percent less pressure on your feet than asphalt or concrete does.

The Plan

This calorie-blasting trail run from Yassine Diboun, the head coach of the off-roader group Animal Athletics in Portland, Oregon, boosts balance and core strength.

Time (in minutes) Activity
0 to 5 Easy jog
5 to 7 Dynamic stretches: Do high knees, butt kicks, straight-legged toe touches, side shuffles and skips -- moving forward around 30 feet with each.
7 to 9 Strides: Jog easy for 30 feet, run hard for 10 seconds and then decelerate for 30 feet. Repeat four more times.
9 to 17 Intervals: Do four 1-minute sprints with 1-minute jogs in between.
17 to 26 Intervals: Do three 2-minute hard runs with 1-minute jogs in between.
26 to 36 Intervals: Do two 3-minute hard runs with a 2-minute jog in between.
36 to 38 Steady run
38 to 43 Easy jog
43 to 45 Animal walks: Do bear crawls, crab walks and frog leaps -- moving forward about 20 feet with each.