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Conquering Vermont's Trails: Preparing Your Body for Spring Adventures

Updated: Apr 6

Although some of us don’t want to accept it, winter is winding down in VT and spring is upon us. As we prepare to take on our infamous VT mud season, we also have to get ready for the next set of outdoor activities.  Whether you’re trading your skis for a set of wheels, or hanging up the snowshoes and breaking out the hiking boots, our bodies- like our beloved stick season- will take some time to get ready for the warm weather sports.


As the trails dry up, we’re aiming to be ready to hit the ground running- literally. Trail running is fast-growing in VT, and for good reason. It’s an amazing and exciting way to exercise, get outside, and explore some of the most beautiful views our green mountains have to offer.


Are you looking for a trail run event this season? Or a group to join? We've got a local list of events and groups that will help you find just what you're looking for. Check it out here.


Of course, like with road running, taking on the trail comes with some risk of injury that we have to manage in order to have a long and pain-free season.  This blog provides an overview of the most common trail-running injuries we see in the clinic, and some considerations on how to avoid them. 


Calf and Achilles Strains


Calf and achilles strain injury during trail running

Tight calves on that first run of the season?  Tight calves… everyday?? We’re talking to you!


Although the so-called “tightness” doesn’t automatically result in injury, your calf flexibility and mobility, along with strength and plyometric capacity, play a big role in how you perform on hills and variable terrain, and can be a big limiter if not trained appropriately.


Calf and achilles tendon injuries are often related to overuse (i.e. too many miles over the course of weeks or months of training), but especially given the nature of trail running and the ever-changing inclines and ground surfaces, acute injuries of greater severity are not uncommon when it comes to this body region.


The best way to avoid this (and any overuse-type injury for that matter) is to appropriately prepare for and ramp up to your trail-run training volume in the long-term, and to warm-up well in the short-term.

 

Here is a quick progression you can use to get started (1-2 sets):


  1. Standing heel raises from a deficit, x 20 with knees straight, x 20 with knees bent

  2. Double leg pogos, x 20 vertical, then “line hop style” x 20 fwd/back, x 20 side to side

  3. High skip build, x 20ttl, building in amplitude as you go

  4. Single leg pogos, x 20ttl vertical, then “line hop style” x 20/leg fwd/back, x 20/leg side to side


Ankle and Foot Sprains


Running after ankle or foot sprain while trail running

Although not unique to trail running, ankle sprains and various types of foot sprains are far more common on the mountain when compared to running on the road.  This is due to the variable ground surfaces we encounter on the trail. Between uneven rocks and roots, slippery mud, unstable gravel and sticks, and ever-changing fall lines, our feet and ankles have their work cut out for them.


These factors are tough enough, but when we add poor visibility to the mix from these features being hidden by leaves or low light, even the best runners with the strongest ankles can go down with a sudden twist or roll.

 

We like to approach this challenge from two angles:


Tactics (strategy/approach) & Technique (skill/performance)

  1. Slow down over challenging terrain, especially with poor visibility

  2. Avoid “blind stepping” (guessing what’s under that pile of leaves and hoping for the best)

  3. Shorten stride, keep steps quick and light on your forefoot

  4. Consider using trekking poles and/or have your hands out for balance (or to quickly catch a fall)

  5. Proper footwear- this could be a whole blog by itself, but in summary, ensure that you have sufficient tread for the conditions you’re in, avoid excessive cushion but make sure there is enough protection for your foot and toes

Training (preparation/injury prevention)


  1. Single leg balance and stability exercises (static >>> dynamic, slow >>> fast)

  2. Agility work (ladders and cone drills… bonus points for training on uneven surfaces)

  3. Foot and ankle strengthening (banded ankle exercises, toe yoga, balance work, etc)

  4. Knee and hip strengthening (better strength up top puts your foot in a position to do its job well)


Knee Sprains and Meniscus Injuries


Manual therapy to knee cap/patella, knee pain with trail running

Injuries to the meniscus and various ligaments of the knee often result from awkward landings that involve a combination of impact and twisting/tilting. By the nature of trail running, we can expect to encounter terrain where this type of impact is more likely to occur due to the uneven and sometimes unstable or slippery surfaces. Similarly to our strategies to mitigate risk of ankle and foot injuries, keeping the knees healthy requires the tactics and techniques listed above along with training:


  1. Balance and stability through a full range of motion (because we use a large range of motion through variable up and downhill terrain)

  2. Agility and reactivity (to be able to safely and quickly adjust your positioning when needed)

  3. Foot, ankle, and hip strength/stability (supporting the knee from both above and below)

  4. Quad, hamstring, calf, glute strength (in other words, get your legs strong- this is how we better handle the forces we endure in trail running and more)


Low Back Pain


Bird dog exercise for a strong back while trail running

Low back pain is one of the most common issues we see across the board, but for runners it often looks different.  We often hear runners describe their back pain more as achy discomfort, fatigue, and tightness more than sharp or debilitating pain.  This is often after a mile or two when things should be warmed up and flowing nicely, but instead their backs are a limiting factor in finding that runner’s high.


If this sounds like you, we’d be willing to bet that you have nothing “wrong” with your back.  Instead, it’s often a matter of training up your core and back muscular endurance, improving your mobility through your hips and pelvis, and maybe focusing on a few aspects of your running form.


Here’s a starting point for each:


  1. Trunk muscular endurance: 

    1. Bird dogs 2 x 20ttl, 5s holds each

    2. Dead bugs 2 x 20ttl, 5s holds each

  2. Hip/pelvic mobility:

    1. Pelvic tilts 2 x 10

  3. Running form:

    1. Keep your trunk angled slightly forward, parallel to your front shin angle (you should have a straight line from your back heel to your shoulders as you push off each step). This keeps you from falling too far forward on your ascents, which can add to that fatigued feeling in your back.

    2. Keep your core active on your descents. Not clenched to the max, just activated (like someone is about to poke your in the belly, not punch you). This will help to keep your low back stable through each step and prevent your pelvis from tipping too far forward.


Remember that our bodies need some time to adapt to the new season’s activities, but we can do even better and get ahead of the transition to make it go smoothly with good preparation.


If you don't feel prepared for the season, or you've got an injury slowing you down, let's talk about what's going on.

Click here to schedule a FREE 15 minute call to find out more.


We can’t say that we’re quite ready for the snow to melt, but we are excited to hit a different type of trail as the warm weather comes around.  We will see you out there this season!

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