Have you been told you’re too big to take up trail running? Or perhaps you “feel” too heavy to go on your first trail run?
There’s something uniquely magical about trail running. But it also has a built-in challenge: It’s not easy.
Even a thin person could get wiped out pretty quickly sustaining a trot up a steady incline outdoors.
However, if you’re on the thick side or even 50 pounds overweight, don’t let this stop you from moving beyond a hiker’s pace next time you’re on a scenic trail.
Trotting uphill is actually a lot gentler on the knees than trotting downhill. I once knew a slender man who had no problem jogging up trails, but had to walk down them due to knee problems.
Certainly, if your knees hurt when performing a particular activity, you should avoid that activity and find out from a physician why your knees hurt and how to correct this problem.
But if your knees feel fine when jogging, including uphill, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t engage in this activity. It’s about listening to your body.
How to Get Started with Trail Running if You’re Overweight
Many people think in terms of long-duration running. Thus, if they can’t run for longer than 30 seconds while seeing other people continue up that long trail without a hitch, they feel defeated.
If all you can do is trot for 30 seconds at a time, then that’s what you should do. Trot, walk, trot, walk, trot, walk.
Over time, with consistency, the trots will become longer and the walks in between will be shorter.
You need to build endurance, which can take time.
Another important factor is that of not overdoing things. If you run too fast, you can become very fatigued after only 15 seconds. Slow down. There’s nothing wrong with a very slow jog.
But if your slowest jog still leaves you exhausted after half a minute, then again, simply alternate these brief slow jogs with walking, during which your body will recharge.
You’ll also want to start out on slight inclines. Higher-grade trails can burn out your calves quickly and also get you quite winded after only 30 seconds.
Finally, don’t get caught up with noticing that other people on the trail are blitzing past you. They, too, once had their starting point. And for all you know, they’ve been trail running for years, several times a week.
What Won’t Help with Your Trail Running
If you think that holding onto a treadmill while jogging at an incline will make you more efficient at trail running – THINK AGAIN.
You absolutely want to avoid this big mistake. When you’re outdoors, you’re not holding onto anything.
Therefore, why would holding onto a treadmill be effective at training your body to jog up a hill?
Holding on completely alters gait and creates an artificial environment. This is why you can hold on till the cows come home for months on end, but then when you go outside for your first trail run of the season, you conk out within 30 seconds.
Holding onto a treadmill subtracts workload from your entire legs and also low back. When you trot up a trail, your lower legs and core are thoroughly engaged.
If jogging an incline on a treadmill without holding on is too difficult, this means you need to set a slower speed and/or lower the incline.
You need to find the settings that you can actually use without cheating by holding on.
However, even if you don’t hold on when using a treadmill incline, this won’t fully prepare you to run up grades outdoors.
It will help a little, but ultimately, by far, the best way to train for trail running is to actually go trail running.
Go slowly. Choose a mild grade. See if you can sustain it for 30 seconds. If so, go for a minute. Go for as long as you can, then do some walking to recharge, then resume the jogging.
Make It Fun
A fun way to become more efficient at running on trails is to choose a stretch of trail that’s rather flat, but has occasional short steep grades.
Every time you get to one of these grades, burst up it. Even if the burst lasts only five seconds, enough of these will have a training effect.
This approach is particularly appealing because you get to go relatively fast, due to the shortness of the inclined area.
Trail Running if You’re Overweight
The aforementioned training approaches apply to people of all sizes.
If you’re overweight and can hike reasonably decently, there’s no reason why you can’t begin inserting some trotting intervals into your hikes.
Unless you’re morbidly obese (at least a hundred pounds overweight), don’t become obsessed with losing weight first before trying a little trail running – unless your knees or feet hurt when attempting it.
Otherwise, with ample hydration, comfortable clothes and footwear designed for running, you’re ready to start enjoying some trail running!
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.
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