Benefits Of Time Running Trails

Benefits Of Time Running Trails

Benefits Of Time Running Trails

Trail Running

Trail running covers a wide variety of terrain and locations from city parks, local footpaths and bridleways, to forest trails, open moorland, and mountains. With a little research, your off-road terrain is easy to find and you can benefit physically and psychologically by getting on the trails.

Let’s take a few minutes to delve into some of the benefits of trail versus the more traditional surfaces of tarmac, track, or treadmill.

Increased Proprioception

Proprioception is the body’s ability to understand where it is in space. In scientific terms, proprioception is the sense though which we perceive the position and movement of our body, including our sense of equilibrium and balance These senses depend on the notion of force. Proprioception allows us to complete physical tasks without thinking much about them. This is important in all the elements of triathlon. Improving your proprioception can lower postural stress.

Changing Foot Strike

We can break this into three basic changing variables:

Undulating Terrain

Terrain can change from flat, to differing gradients and angles of surface. This causes very minor changes to foot strike and subtly alters the initial contact point with the ground. This changes the peak stress point (the point where the greatest bio-mechanical stress occurs). When the foot lands in a limited way, the peak stress point remains the same. An athlete’s body absorbs 2.5 to 3 times body weight with every run stride (for a 80kg runner that’s 200 -240kg every stride). On the road that force is hitting the same peak stress point every pace.

Uneven Terrain

At the foot/ankle this changes the amount of movement that occurs (pronation or supination). As trails are more uneven, the types of movement varies throughout the run. This spreads the load more evenly as at times it is more and at other times less. As this changes, so does the associated stress loading. There is also varying subtle differences in the use of stabilising muscles to compensate for terrain, again spreading the overall load.

Changes In Surface

Trail surfaces vary from soft, softer, to being compact, or stony. This adds another dynamic to trail running. In this instance, it is the impact forces that can vary, depending on the surface and terrain underfoot. On stony surfaces, the impact forces are higher, (similar to the road) whereas on a softer surface they are lower. This can lower the cumulative impact over the duration of the run. The combination of variance in foot strike, terrain, and changing surface creates a more dynamic run environment. Each footstep is subtly different and so is the stress point. This works to strengthen smaller muscles and tendons that often don’t get worked in other training environments.

More Muscle Groups Working And Working Differently

Trail running, due to the variations discussed, causes activation of a wider range of muscle groups when compared with a constant, more consistent, surface such as tarmac. The varied surface of the trail increases the workload of smaller stabilising muscles such as those responsible for stabilising feet, ankles, knees, and hips; as well as increasing the workload of core muscles.

This helps to ensure you work a wider range of muscle groups. Potentially this can make you a more robust and balanced runner. As your best running line may not give the opportunity for a clean, linear, foot placement as on the road you are again utilising a greater diversity of muscles. Greater variation in muscular contraction occurs, depending on whether you are running uphill, downhill, or on flatter terrain. This can amount to whole life physical benefits.

The Core

During running, core and stabilising muscles work to hold the body in position and maintain stability. The dynamic nature of trail running, compared with running on the road, requires a greater level of activation and engagement of these muscles. This can help make for a more robust and stable runner. Another whole life benefit.

Varied Surface = Varied Loading

The diversity of the trail compared to the road, track, or treadmill, can reduce the overall impact and loading experienced during a run. The work rate of your running muscles is increased. The variable running surface means your muscles and tendons won’t get the same level of energy return from a consistent surface as in other environments. Therefore muscle workload can vary with each stride to drive you forward. This can strengthen your soft tissue structures associated with running and improve muscular endurance. More whole life benefit.

Improved Economy

The uneven nature of trails improves strength and core stability. The eccentric loading from downhill running strengthens key muscle groups and improves joint stability. Downhill running particularly increases the strength of the knee extensor muscles. This may reduce injury risk and increase knee extensor strength and stability around the knee joint, so playing a part in improving run economy.
Overall, reduced levels of impact allow you to recover quicker and vary training load (duration/intensity) which is an important factor in long-term improvement of running economy.

Varied Intensity

As trail running involves varied work rate with each step, ascent, descent, twist and turn, when compared to regular surfaces, there is more power variability. Heart rate and power intensities may vary according to the demands of the terrain. This variation in work rate can be beneficial for overall improvement.

Improved Co-ordination And Reactions

Due to the rapidly changing conditions under foot, differing foot placement options, and line selection you can improve your co-ordination and reaction at speed. This is due to your mind being more engaged in the practicalities of each foot strike. Yet more whole life benefit.

Psychological Benefits

The focus on every foot placement and optimal running line which trail running requires is akin to mindfulness. To deal with the variation of terrain and surface you need to have a greater level of awareness than when running on other surfaces. You need to be present in every stride (to maintain balance). The trail is constantly changing and requires constant concentration on the task. This creates a sense of moving meditation. Add in the positive health benefits of being in green spaces and you have a significant emotional plus.

Connecting with nature is something that scientists are starting to understand more about and are identifying links to mental health, psychological well-being, and physiological health. These links may also explain why moving naturally in nature is associated with improved immune function.

So many reasons to add this dimension to your training and life and enjoy ‘trail time.

Ian

Ian

Position

Ian is a British Triathlon Level 3 High Performing Triathlon Coach. He has raced at all distances, formats, and levels over 3 decades in the sport. He seeks to enhance his athletes’ training and racing experience. He is an advocate of balanced training which offers improvements or bonuses to all aspects of an athlete’s life, not just the finish time. He is always happy to discuss your goals and training.

It’s All About The Saddle

It’s All About The Saddle

The most significant contact point that you can get right on your bike is the saddle. If your bike fit is correct, your saddle will be taking the largest percentage of your weight and will be offering optimum support. If support is inadequate, too much weight will be going through some of the rider contact areas on the saddle or through other contact points, creating problems.

The saddle that comes with your new bike is, like most mass sold items, designed to generically fit people of the average size/build of the bike purchased and simply finishes the bike within a price point. It is not the best saddle for you.

What are some of the factors to consider in a saddle?

Support

The saddle carries most of the weight of the body. As the pelvis is not that large, it has only a small amount of contact area with the saddle. This contact is not like sitting in a chair. It is essential that your choice of saddle enables the most contact area available. This means that widths in different parts of the saddle are important. It is crucial that you select the best saddle, in shape and design, for your individual build. If the saddle is not wide enough to support the pubis, riders twist to one side causing uneven loading, knee angles change causing loss of pedalling efficiency and potential shear forces. Get it right and the saddle increases comfort, efficiency, and performance.

Stability

Saddle design is also important for good rider biomechanics, which is key to maximising efficiency. Consider what shape of saddle best suits your riding style and sporting aspirations. The right saddle for you will provide stability. Being stable avoids the power output drop and performance or riding deterioration which instability causes. Stability creates the opportunity to improve power, speed or aerodynamic position.

Comfort

The wrong saddle can cause a range of other issues from simple discomfort to saddle sores or vascular problems. Saddles that cause a ‘hotspot’ result in riders shifting weight to the other side for relief. As a result, as they do so they place extra stress on the knees as they then track differently, placing unnecessary shear forces on joints. Repeating that thousands of times in a ride or race increases the risk of injury.

A poor choice or poorly positioned saddle results in riders shifting on the saddle to get comfortable. As a result, each shift causes a break in the pedalling rhythm. Each break in rhythm causes a loss of time. Research has found that at elite level each shift causes a time loss of approximately 3 and 1/2 seconds and is a lost quality pedal stroke. This means that not only is there a time penalty but also a negative energy cost.

Aero-friendly

The saddle is possibly the piece of equipment that most affects your aerodynamics. If a rider can’t hold an optimal position, the aerodynamics of the rider will effect drag coefficient negatively. For example, this will result in loss of gains made from expensive deep section wheels or other purchases. Riders and triathletes will discuss aerodynamic gains all day. However, the bigger gains are stability, comfort and efficiency. When you have stability you create the opportunity to improve power, speed or aerodynamic position.

If you cannot rotate the pelvis anteriorly it will be difficult to maintain an aero position or to be riding in the drops. Therefore the often-seen option of lowering the base-bar or slamming handlebars is not a positive choice. Without stability on the saddle it’s difficult to hold a quality aggressive or  aero position.

Triathlon Specific Considerations

Triathletes often wish to stay aero for as long as possible but if the saddle doesn’t suit the rider, it’s hard for them to rotate the pelvis anteriorly. This rotation is important to create that necessary stability in the position. An uncomfortable saddle will limit ability to maintain that position due to discomfort caused and pressure on nerves and blood vessels. This results in posterior rotation of the pelvis to relieve the pressure, coming back to the base bar position and toughing it out in a poor position. This can cause excessive loading on the lower back which in turn affects the whole of the posterior kinetic chain. For triathletes, any problems created on the bike section can also later cause problems on the run when loading on the body and the damaged area increases dramatically.

Individuality

There are some differences to consider between female/male pelvis size and width. Females generally have wider pelvises. However it’s important to consider yourself as an individual rather than making gender assumptions. It’s about finding the right saddle for you as a rider. What is the width of your pelvis? This is measured by the distance between the ischial tuberosities, the ‘sit bones’.

Other questions might include: Do you need more stability? Do you genuinely have the flexibility to use a certain type or model of saddle?

Knowing how you load your saddle is important. Do you load to the front, middle or rear of the saddle? Knowing this helps in saddle choice. You may need to ensure sufficient leg clearance to stop your knees angling out or poor rotation of the pelvis and increased positional shifting.

Cycle-fit

Once you have the right saddle, also getting the height of the saddle right is essential. Power transfer is never going to be optimum if it is too high.  Saddle height being too high, perhaps to emulate what the rider perceives to be the optimum position, can lead to the rider having to tilt the saddle nose down to reduce unwanted pressure. In turn this causes instability as weight slips forward, increasing pressure on the front of the pelvis and causing discomfort. It can also place too much weight forward affecting, shoulders, back, arms or hands, and lead to other issues. 

In conclusion

Saddles are a hugely personal item of equipment. Spend the time to learn what suits you, get someone to assess your position critically. Get measured to have an optimum width to offer stability. Review your options regularly. Some manufacturers have test saddles you can borrow from retailers and others offer a 30 day trial or return. Time invested in getting it right will be rewarded with your goal of comfort with increased efficiency and performance.


Ian is a qualified cycle-fitter with over 10 years of experience working with age group and elite level riders/triathletes of all ages. He believes he is fortunate enough to have been trained by some of the best fitters in the business. His fitting knowledge is supported by his understanding as a Level 3 High Performing Triathlon Coach and a British Cycling Level 3 coach for Road, Time Trial, and MTB.  He is an age-group athlete, has represented GB at Long Distance and Cross Triathlon, and has completed over a dozen multi-day long distance cycling events. He is always happy to discuss your needs in relation to fit and training. Please get in touch with any questions.

Behind Bars

Behind Bars

Well to be exact, behind handlebars and aerobars. As with all your contact points on the bike it’s important that your bike fit is optimised to enable a great position but not at the cost of comfort. If comfort is not there, then efficiency is affected and so, therefore, is speed. 

I am sure most of us who ride a bike have experienced that feeling of pins and needles in the hands, often along the ring and little finger. You take your hand off the bars, make a fist, wave your hand around and the sensation reduces and disappears. Hands back on the bars, back up to speed, and a while later it is time to repeat the process. On each occasion, whilst you do this, you reduce your speed (not to mention the one-handed cycling and changes in ride posture/pressure on other contact points).

Clinically, this is known as Handlebar or Cyclist’s palsy. It is commonly associated with compression of the ulnar nerve. The median and ulnar nerves provide sensory innervation to the hand. Compression most frequently is in an anatomical space in the wrist called the Guyon’s Canal. Depending on your choice(s) of hand position on the bars and the setup of the front end of your bike, the numbness may also be experienced around the thumb, index, or middle finger. This will be compression of the median nerve and may be diagnosed as Carpal Tunnel syndrome. This is more common among mountain bikers and the cross -triathlon community due to the different handlebar configuration and hand position. 

For triathletes, from novice to experienced, there then there comes the question of aerobars. Incorrectly set up aerobars increase the risk of ulnar nerve impingement at the Cubital Tunnel at the elbow. As the ulnar nerve travels from the neck to the hand, compression of the nerve may show symptoms along this path. Most often symptoms are numbness and tingling in the hand or finger of the affected side and difficulty in the application of finer motor skills i.e. changing gear in an aero position.

Handlebar Palsy can be split into four categories, with a fifth category to consider in relation to aerobars, according to where the compression occurs. Each has its own characteristics of sensory loss and/or motor weakness. While it is unusual for age group triathletes and cyclists to suffer motor impairments, any symptoms and their causes should be managed to avoid the risk of long-term chronic damage.

Research in this area over a number of studies indicates that this is an important issue for growing numbers of athletes riding on aerobars. Cross-referenced studies have shown increases between pre-event and post-event symptoms; and end of season symptoms have shown a further increase. Triathletes and Time Trialists should research or take advice on the best shape of aerobar design and configuration for their individual biomechanics.

There may be a range of reasons for the symptoms across all groups of riders including:

  • Being too far forward on the bike – uneven weight distribution;
  • Too much pressure through the hands;
  • Incorrect grip on the bar;
  • Incorrect athlete position on aerobars;
  • Aerobar pads with insufficient or worn padding;
  • Saddle too high/bars too low;
  • Worn down handlebar tape;
  • Poor saddle choice/position;
  • Lack of padding in gloves;
  • Incorrect bar width;
  • Incorrect aerobar design for particular athlete;
  • Incorrect aerobar set up – angle, width;
  • Overinflated or narrow tyres.

Due to the changes in how we train with the advent of turbo and smart trainers, a growing variety of platforms to train and race on plus virtual racing events, the prevalence amongst the triathlon and cycling community may be on the increase.  Historically there is an increase in people experiencing symptoms over the winter months. This is most likely due to decreased changes in hand position; less movement of the hands generally and reduced fine motor movement demands. Training indoors may bring on symptoms due to factors such as wearing different gloves or moving less on an indoor trainer. 

This condition can be caused by a poor bike set up/fit. I often see riders with stems slammed low to emulate a perceived quality aero position when the rider just is not capable of maintaining it comfortably, safely, or efficiently. As a result, weight shifts in different proportions around the contact points. The most common hand positions for symptoms are hands on the hoods or drops or by the gear shifters. Also, for those on aerobars, the general considerations for handlebars apply to the base bar but also consideration of the design of the aerobars and set up plus individual biomechanical limitations.

What can you do to relieve or stop the symptoms?

  • Get a proper fit. Talk with your fitter and ask their rationale about changes to your set up.
  • Optimise your handlebar width for your physical size.
  • Optimise your aerobar design and shape for you.
  • Make small changes in angle to your handlebar position to reduce pressure on the hands.
  • Make sure to change hand position every 5-10 mins – especially when on the trainer.
  • Avoid over-gripping the bar – an overly tight grip does not improve your handling or security.
  • Reflect on your ride position and grip.
  • Ride a wider tyre or adjust tyre pressure.
  • MTB riders / Cross athletes should keep your front suspension serviced.
  • Gloves with foam/silicone inserts. Research indicates 3mm of foam to be effective.

Most of us who cycle will experience this from time to time. It is about noticing it, reflecting on it, and making those changes to improve your position or riding habits to maximise your health and the riding experience.


Ian is a qualified cycle-fitter with over 10 years of experience working with age group and elite level riders/triathletes of all ages. He believes he is fortunate enough to have been trained by some of the best fitters in the business. His fitting knowledge is supported by his understanding as a Level 3 High Performing Triathlon Coach and a British Cycling Level 3 coach for Road, Time Trial, and MTB.  He is always happy to discuss your needs in relation to fit and training.