6 ways to help your trail running technique

Majell Backhausen is an Endurance Coach and Elite Athlete for Salomon, Suunto, and Compressport, and an advocate for simplicity, patience and longevity in the sport of trail running and outdoor pursuits. Check out our range of Salomon footwear here. 

When it comes to your running technique, you want to be one step ahead of the game. Whether you're new to trail running or need a refresher, these six running techniques can help you understand and better your trail running style.

1. Find the right cadence

The right cadence or rhythm will improve your running form, efficiency, and eventually your speed. There are a number of things that affect your cadence, including your foot position and the time each foot spends on the ground (this is known as the 'stance phase'). 

  • Foot placement is key to improving your running technique. Aim to strike your foot below your centre of gravity. A difference of centimetres can make a difference to the distance you travel in your stride. Aim to train yourself to eventually land further on your mid-foot to forefoot rather than landing on your heel. Be cautious to achieve this slowly over time, rather than forcing yourself into this new stride, which risks injury. Focusing on landing your foot closer to your hip (rather than further out in front of you) will make it a more natural adjustment to land further forward on your foot, as your foot won't need to effectively brace against your collision with the ground by landing on the heel first. This heel-first bracing not only risks injury but slows you down and is known as 'braking force'. Having your foot closer to your centre of gravity when you land on it allows you to use your ankle to flex and release some of the force that comes from landing on the ground. This can help reduce strain further up in your other joints. 
  • Optimal cadence is about 180 foot strikes or steps per minute with both your left and right food combined. To measure this, aim to strike either your foot at least 30 times in 20 seconds. To increase cadence, shorten your stride length by a third for each step.
  • The less time your foot is on the ground, the longer you are moving forward. Reducing this stance phase by mere percentage points of your overall gait can make a significant difference to your running technique and overall performance and endurance.

2. Master the uphill

Believe it or not, your running technique makes a big difference when facing hills, whether uphill or downhill. 

  • Lean in. You want to mirror the gradient of the hill by leaning forward from your ankles. Allow gravity and momentum to assist your movement uphill.
  • Maintain a quick and light cadence,  even if it means shortening your stride. Relax your shoulders, arms and your non-engaged leg. Tension is an inefficient use of your energy.
  • Your arm swing, steps and breathing should be in equal motion to your cadence. If you’re running a long-distance trail, hiking with a strong purpose will often be far more effective.
  • Experiment with poles as they can help you move more effectively and keep you balanced.
Maintain a quick and light cadenceMaintain a quick and light cadence
Maintain a quick and light cadence

3. Build confidence on the downhill

  • Keep relaxed, remember to breathe and maintain momentum.
  • Raise your eyesight and try to look ahead. Looking at your feet will slow you down.
  • Work towards looking 4-5 steps ahead of you, this will keep your thoughts focused on what you're doing
  • Keep your running cadence high, don’t overreach your steps and ensure your feet fall beneath you.
  • Take the outside line through corners to move smoothly and to maintain speed.
  • Accept the forward fall and keep moving with it.
  • Allow your arms to move freely, this will counterbalance your legs.
  • Remember that confidence will come with regular practice.

4. Get to know the trail

  • Build confidence by repetitively running technical trails. Start slow and easy, but be persistent.
  • Keep your body relaxed, with your limbs (arms and legs) loose and reactive.
  • Strengthen your lower legs with drills such as skipping, hopping, step-ups and balancing on one leg.
  • Pay attention, don't get sidetracked or let your mind wander. Tripping and falling can happen before you realise it.

5. Equip yourself properly for night running

  • Get a good head torch. Aim to brighten your dark surroundings as similar to daylight as possible. You will see better, move faster and build better confidence.
  • Your head torch should be comfortable, rechargeable, fit you properly and have a high lumen count.
  • Run with a group for better safety. Whether in a group or alone, always tell someone where you plan to go.

For safety reasons, run with a group when the sun goes downFor safety reasons, run with a group when the sun goes down
For safety reasons, run with a group when the sun goes down

6. Ensure consistency

The number one thing you can do to improve your running technique? Consistency in your training.

  • Follow a structured program and allow enough time for recovery.
  • You will earn far more benefits if you run four times per week for 20 minutes, opposed to running once a week for 80 minutes.
  • Consistency establishes good running and exercise habits. Start small and take it one day at a time and enjoy watching the cumulative effects on your technique, fitness and your enjoyment of running!

Find inspiration for your next run by watching ultramarathon runner Jacqui Bell's journey as the youngest woman to complete the world-renowned 4 Deserts Grand Slam

Jacqui Bell

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