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Does Trail Running Make You Better At Hiking? – Decide Outside – Making Adventure Happen

Going on a big hike? Are you wondering if trail running will prepare you? Trail running and hiking require different skills–does any of that cross over?

Trail running is excellent preparation for hiking. Trail running requires speed, technique, and concentration, as does hiking so the skills cross over. Trail Running increases fitness, strengthens muscles, and helps navigate tricky terrain for speeding on nature trails.

Hiking and trail running use the same muscles and cardiovascular system. For this reason, many people think they function the same by being in nature, yet trail running can be much trickier.

Does Trail Running Help Hiking?

If you are a trail runner, you know that is a high-impact sport. Trail running is done generally, on a semi-leveled pathway, in nature. While trail running you’ll run into steep uphill and downhill, rocks, sand, scree, narrow trails, and boulders. Hiking and trail running share the same terrain, with the exception that for some trails, only hiking is possible.

Trail running is done ‘’running’’, with a more cardio fitness purpose while enjoying nature, and hiking is done walking, primarily for the pleasure of being in nature around mountains, or to get from point A to point B (when you are hiking to go camp at a destination for example)

me-standing-in-dry-river-bed-with-my-running-gear
Trail running across a dried riverbed

The stamina used when trail running is significantly more than hiking because it increases your heart rate more quickly. It takes a lot of concentration to be moving at speed on a terrain where you can trip, fall and have to maneuver your body to maintain balance at all times.

Train runners use their full-body strength, the legs for running, the arms for balance, and the core to engage and maintain balance. With hiking, for the most part, you’re going to feel it in your legs with some core.

Trail running can help you get better at hiking by improving your stamina, balance, and strength.

How Hiking Can Help Trail Running

As a hiker, you might be glad to know that you don’t have to go trail running to train for a big hike, but conversely, hiking can be a great way to get better at trail running.

Many runners can benefit mentally and physically from switching up to a hike a couple of times a week. Here is how:

  1. You get aerobic gains with less risk of injury
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Hiking is an excellent low-intensity cardio exercise. If you have made a mountainous hiking trip, you know that some sections of a hike can be very intense, especially when going up a particularly steep climb. But overall, it’s a slow burn up and down those hills.

Overall, this low-intensity hiking activity done over extended periods helps to develop your aerobic engine, specifically if you are new to trail running and find the short trail (with constant speed) quite challenging.

2. It helps with trail running prep

If you have ever spent much time off-road, hiking can be a gentler approach to getting used to the natural terrain. It won’t be precisely the same as trail running, but sometimes trail runs can be a lot of work if not dangerous because of the speed.

A hike on single-track trails might feel less intimidating than heading out for a run, and because you move slower by walking, your body adjusts to navigating rocks and roots with less chance of falling.

Although the techniques for hiking and running are different, your brain gets used to identifying safe and unsafe places to put your feet from both activities–which is a crucial skill for avoiding injuries.

In addition, hiking is a simple way to start adding more elevation to your workouts, and since many runners slow down to a ‘fast hike’ pace on big climbs, the hiking can prepare you for runs that might include those hill-type sections.

3. You spend a lot of time in nature while hiking

Being in nature can help alleviate stress and bring out creativity. It can help with productivity and decrease anxiety levels. Hiking is a fantastic way to slow down and connect.

In fact, I searched dozens of research articles for compelling evidence about hiking as it relates to mental and physical health. Make sure and check out the fruits of my labor here.

I swear, I do more outside than take selfies. 😀

On the contrary, while runners generally spend a lot of time outside, many are concerned about time and performance and opt for time-saving routes rather than getting out on the trails deep in nature that may require a little extra drive getting there.

Running of any type still provides stress relief, but spending more time in actual deep-rooted nature can be even more powerful, which is how hiking is done. It can get you accustomed to loving and enjoying that environment.

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4. Hiking doesn’t require a lot of gear

Hiking doesn’t require much. While many people prefer to carry large hiking backpacks, the most you typically need for a hike is a water bottle and good pair of hiking shoes.

That’s right, you don’t need those big hiking boots to go hiking! Learn more about hiking shoes in my article, here. In fact, some people opt to hike in their running or trail running shoes! You can see more info about hiking in running shoes, here.

Running also doesn’t require or allow much gear, which can intimidate some people who always need to have a few things on them. People don’t want to run with excess weight because it can be uncomfortable or slow them down.

Using a hike which can be done with a slow walk and many breaks, can help you get used to being unencumbered by all your stuff!

5. You will engage different muscle groups

Trail runners sometimes train their bodies to rely on specific muscle groups while ignoring other major parts. Hiking can help your body switch things up and start activating less-utilized muscles.

As a terrain gets more uneven, you’re going to perform lunging, and squatting moves as you navigate over and around rocks, roots, and maybe even bending around trees.

Steep climbs can force you to activate your glutes. If you are carrying a backpack, this can be even more effective.

Hiking Makes You A Stronger Trail Runner

Trail running requires time to do those miles. You cover a lot more ground than a hike in the same amount of time. Your legs need that stamina to get through a regular flat surface run, so a nature trail run with ups and downs would use up even more of your energy.

To get that strength in your legs, it’s important to put in those miles. Hiking is a slow and steady way to get that conditioning in to help you for your future runs.

The volume is important in the sense that running causes massive stress on the body, but hiking uses less force and impact; therefore, you can walk farther than you can run. The distance you go will help strengthen your body over time.

Hiking a really great training for trail running, not just because you can get more miles in, but you will be able to do it without too much stress as it mimics what you will be doing during a trail run.

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As for the mileage, you get good low impact time on your feet. But as with any training, the more specific you can make it to the task you are going to do, the better it will be for you. In other words, bench-pressing to prepare for skiing doesn’t really make sense, but lunges do.

Hiking prepares you for trail running because it prepares your muscles for almost exactly what they are going to be doing.

Hiking For Safety

Some people’s bodies don’t react very well to running, especially when there is so much maneuvering included, like in trail runs. This is especially true for people who are just getting into running.

Hiking warms you up to higher impact running. If you can manage to go out for a one to two-hour hike, you can practice being prepared for that tired feeling in your legs without it being a massive impact.

Making the Transition To Trail Running

It can be demoralizing to feel like you are in shape but cannot efficiently complete a trail run after having excellent hiking skills or vice versa. The key to this is to remember that sport specificity matters. When you look to transition from one to the other, you will need to take baby steps before you leap straight into it.

If you are a strong hiker, you probably have excellent muscular and bone density and hiking skills that can translate seamlessly into trail running with the proper training.

The trick is to get into the trail running, but don’t be afraid to walk when necessary. In training for running, specifically longer distances, hiking can help you level up and push you farther than you could go before.

Don’t do something that isn’t manageable for you. Consistency is the key, and walking is not a sign of weakness, rather a valuable tool.

Conclusion

Hiking is non-specific training that, ultimately, isn’t running. It will boost your fitness level in general and increase your stamina for more demanding terrains. Trail runs can get challenging when you have to add speed to the mix of running over rocky surfaces. It requires technique, and that technique can be achieved by practice through hiking.

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