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Must-do strength exercises for trail runners

Prepare for next season with these exercises to build strength and power over the winter

Close your eyes and imagine two scenarios. The first, you are running through the alpine in the glistening sun. You run up every steep climb and fly effortlessly down the technical descents. In the second scenario, you are slowly climbing your way into the alpine. You trudge along the single track, but the descent feels awkward and every muscle aches. By the time you return to the trailhead, you are waddling like a baby penguin. 

Photo: D. Featherstone

If you’ve ever felt like a waddling penguin after a long run, it’s likely due to muscle imbalances that need strengthening. The short and dark days of winter are the perfect opportunity to strengthen muscles and work on imbalances. Strength and movement specialist Alex Ackerley recommends making these exercises part of your routine to feel stronger by spring: 

RELATED: 5 seasonal tips for fall trail running

1. Lateral Stability Bounds 

What it does: targets abductors, glutes, hamstrings, and ankles.
What it’s good for: strengthening the stabilizing muscles around the hip, knee, and ankle to prevent injury. 
Practice: Focus on perfectly balanced landings before thinking about how far and how fast you bound.  

2. Bulgarian Split Squat

What it does: targets glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, abductors, and adductors. 
What it’s good for: uphill power and strengthening legs without compensating back muscles.
Practice: Count four seconds to get down and one second to get up. This trains tissue health as well as concentric power.  

3. Alternating Side Plank

What it does: targets obliques, shoulders, abductors, and adductors. 
What it’s good for: protecting against adductor injury, maintaining posture under fatigue, and improving upper body strength. This exercise also helps knee stability, which is essential for running effortlessly down technical descents. 
Practice: Focus on keeping your feet grounded during the movement, rather than throwing your arms around. 

Ackerley advises performing the exercises barefoot to strengthen your feet and ankles simultaneously (or wear shoes if you have plantar fasciitis). Work through the exercises four times, performing each one in full without resting in between. Take 90 seconds rest between one full circuit and repeat. 

RELATED: Quick strength: Five ways to get strong in under one minute

This is the season for working on the muscles that may have been neglected during peak training. Focusing on these exercises this winter, means you’ll be running stronger by the spring–and less like a penguin. Learn more about Alex Ackerley and NexusFit here.

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