Trail Running Vs. Road Running: Which Of The Two Is The OG Running Routine?

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Running indoors has its pros. For example, you get to catch up on your favorite series or movie, watch your kids, or multitask with another activity. However, running outdoors happens to bear more fruits. For example, the different terrains challenge your workout, making your leg muscles work more. There are various forms of running for the outdoors that you can consider. The two most common ones are trail and road running. But which is the best? In this read, we will compare trail running vs. road running.

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Is Running Outside A Must?

There are so many reasons that make most people hate running outside. It could be because of the harsh weather, potholes, or insecurity. Nevertheless, fitness gurus reveal that there is something special about running outside.

But why is it important? Well, these gurus reveal that, first, running outside gives you a better-rounded workout (4). The argument is that when running outside, you change terrains, which gives your leg muscles an added workout (4).

Secondly, you get to run downhill. You may not run downhill with some treadmills, which means you are not engaging some of your muscle groups like the quadriceps. Additionally, WebMD reveals that you also get to run side to side (4). Running side to side has been linked with neuromuscular control and balance (4). 

The other benefits that are associated with running outdoors include (4):

  • Increased calorie burning because, unlike on the treadmill, you are running against air resistance.
  • Increased motivation to stick to the running routine because of the beauty and fun of running outdoors.
  • Better preparation for races and marathons.
  • It offers an excellent opportunity to explore while still burning calories.
  • It burns more calories than running indoors to the different terrain.
  • Allows you to absorb some vitamin D.
  • It works for many muscle groups and helps you get fit quickly.
  • It helps build stamina, endurance, muscle size, and strength.

Read More: Trail Running For Beginners: 9 Tips To Make Offroad Running Work For You

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What Is The Difference Between Trail Vs. Road Running?

There are several differences between the two. To better understand them, we will look at the differences under several aspects or in various sections. Take a look:

Definition

  • Trail Running: Trail running is defined as running in the heart of nature. It entails going for a run on the hills or slopes, but not the road.
  • Road Running: As the name suggests, you are generally following the road when you are road running. It is a repetitive movement that has you running in one direction.

Cardio Fitness

  • Trail Running: The Guardian reveals that your cardio fitness has room for improvement if you maintain the pace (6). In addition, some seasoned runners who only run on rough terrain discovered that their anaerobic performance was lower than runners using the road (6).
  • Road Running: Seasoned runners have revealed that they reach their highest anaerobic capacity levels when road running, even when their pace is low (6).

Accessibility

  • Trail Running: You must always plan for trail running because some countries like the U.K. have courses that are hard to find (6). So unless you are familiar with rails, hills, fells, or other trails, you need first to do a survey.
  • Road Running: You do not need to conduct any research because roads are easily accessible. All you have to do is lace up and follow the road until you feel satisfied with your mileage.

Restrictions

  • Trail Running: Trail running has several restrictions. The first one is time. Depending on the geography of where you are, you may be restricted to trail run at night or in the wee hours. Secondly, you cannot run anywhere because some trails are dangerous or inaccessible.
  • Road Running: You are not restricted by time or the geography of where you live when road running. Perhaps the only restriction you may face that applies to trail running (but it may not matter as such) when road running is the weather. 

Complexity

  • Trail Running: Trail running is considered more complex because of the uneven and changing terrain. More so, there are obstacles that you constantly face, like rocks, branches, or roots. They add to the physical and mental efforts to complete the run.
  • Road Running: It is considered easier than trail running because of the flat smooth terrain. However, it can be challenging if you are running in an area with many road users and traffic.

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Balance

  • Trail Running: When you are trail running, you are constantly changing terrains. Fitness gurus reveal that the changes hone your sense of balance and body awareness (6). As a result, you reap the benefits of increased muscle and joint strength and responsiveness (6).
  • Road Running: With road running, there are fewer balance benefits. Road running is a repetitive activity that entails moving in a single direction and on the same terrain. So, you do not get to challenge your muscles as such as when trail running. So, experts deem it less effective than trail running in building core stability and balance (6).

Leg Strength

  • Trail Running: Trails have rough and undefined terrain. The uneven and rolling terrain challenges your leg muscles, making them work double to maintain balance. In light of this, experts have found them to be very effective in building leg strength (6).
  • Road Running: Road running is not considered as effective as trail running because of the even surface that does not challenge your leg muscles as much (6). However, it still boosts strength and endurance in your lower body muscles (6).

Injury Risk

  • Trail Running: Although both expose you to injury risk, you are at a more significant injury risk when trail running. Besides the many obstacles you face, you risk getting injured due to poor footing or zoning out and putting less thought into your form.
  • Road Running: It also exposes you to injury risks but the risk is less than trail running. 

Speed

  • Trail Running: Running on the varying terrain and elevation makes it hard to maintain a constant pace per mile. This is one of the many reasons why tracking performance when trail running is challenging. 
  • Road Running: It is effortless to set and attain a specific pace per mile because the terrain is even.

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Time

  • Trail Running: You take more time to cover the same distance as a road runner because of the many obstacles you face when trail running (6). They include slippery, loose or uneven floors, or rocks.
  • Road Running: The flat and smooth terrain allows you to cover more mileage in a short duration.

Performance Tracking

  • Trail Running: Tracking performance when trail running is considered more complex because you keep changing trails. As a result, you change your pace. Remember that trails differ in terrain, meaning you will not run at the same speed. As mentioned earlier, the lack of a constant mile per pace is one of the obstacles in performance tracking when trail running.
  • Road Running: It is easier to track your road running performance because of mile markers that help you determine your mileage. 

Mood

  • Trail Running: Exercising in the heart of nature is very beneficial. A philosophy known as the biophilia effect encourages connection between humans and nature for better cognitive functioning and physical and psychological well-being. 
  • The philosophy applies in trail running because you are running through nature and happen to form a connection (6). In addition, nature can improve your psychological well-being and enhance your mood (6).
  • Road Running: It is also mood-enhancing, but not as much as trail running, where you are in the heart of nature (6). Nevertheless, it will still help you relieve stress and anxiety and lift your mood (6).

Impact

  • Trail Running: Trail running is considered a high-impact exercise due to the rough and uneven terrain. Such may not bother you if you are young or do not have bad knees. However, if you do, the constantly repeated runs through the rough terrain may put so much pressure on your knees and back, resulting in pain.
  • Road Running: It is a lower impact exercise than trail running because of the even surface. If you maintain the correct form, you will hardly feel pressure on your knees or back when road running.

Competitiveness

  • Trail Running: Trail running is not competitive, meaning you can stop to enjoy nature, drink water, or look at your watch (2). This is yet another reason why you cannot measure performance when trail running. Because of this, you may take even six minutes to complete a mile, depending on the terrain (2).
  • Road Running: This is competitive because you can track your pace per mile. 

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Which Is Better For Weight Loss: Road Running Vs. Trail Running

Weight loss entails you burning more calories than you are consuming. Fitness gurus acknowledge that you burn more calories when you start an exercise like running. However, the debate is the effectiveness of calorie-burning when comparing trail vs. road running.

Both activities help you burn calories. However, trail running is more effective in weight loss because it increases your calorie burn up to 10% than road running (5). Even so, remember to maintain or adopt other habits that promote weight loss, for example, eating low-calorie foods, practicing portion control, and mindful eating.

Read More: Types Of Walking Styles And How To Use Them For Maximum Health Benefits

Dangers Of Road Running Vs. Trail Running

As we have seen above, both of these activities have an injury risk. On top of that, there are specific dangers of taking part in any of the two. Trail running has its dangers, and they range from getting lost, being unprepared, twisting an ankle, running out of supplies like water, falling, or experiencing painful and bloody blisters.

You cannot run with a painful blister or twisted ankle because it only doubles the pain. Similarly, if you run out of water, you increase the risk of being dehydrated. Contrary to what you think, dehydration can be life-threatening if it is severe. 

Medline Plus suggests you get medical help if you experience the following symptoms (1):

  • Rapid breathing
  • Fainting
  • Shock
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Lack of urination

On the other hand, road running has also been associated with several dangers. The most severe one is accidents, and there are endless causes of accidents when road running. They range from running on a busy highway, not paying attention to the road, or running with traffic.

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Tips Of Trail And Road Running

After going through the differences between these two running activities, you may want to give one a try. It is an excellent idea because it will help you attain your fitness goals. However, be sure to talk to your doctor and trainer before starting either activity. Similarly, we urge you to go through these life-saving yet straightforward tips on safe trail and road running:

  • Your Safety Is Priority

Nothing tops your safety when you are trail or road running. So, be very cautious when you are performing any of these activities. Also, when trail running, be sure to maintain a steady pace that allows you to watch the terrain.

Similarly, watch out for rocks, roots, branches, and other objects that may injure you when running. The same safety measure applies when road running. Watch out for cars, especially if you are running on a busy highway– neither running towards or against traffic is safe.

Again, as much as you want to listen to music, make sure that you are not consumed by the music that you forget you are running. You must be alert, whether on the road or a trail, to avoid accidents.

When it comes to weight loss, progress is made by inches, not miles, so it’s much harder to track and a lot easier to give up. BetterMe app is your personal trainer, nutritionist and support system all in one. Start using our app to stay on track and hold yourself accountable!

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  • Wear The Right Gear

Be sure to wear the correct gear depending on the activity that you want to perform. For example, there are specific shoes for trail and road running, respectively. They have been designed to prevent you from blisters and for better traction on the terrain. Likewise, wear loose-fitting clothing and remember to tie your laces to avoid tripping and injuring yourself.

  • Start Where You Are

Unfortunately, today’s boom is that you have to follow what celebrities or famous fitness gurus are doing for it to count. For example, if they prefer running on a treadmill, society views treadmill running as the best of all running programs.

Such information overload, most of which happens to be misconceptions, can discourage a prospective trail or road runner. This is why you are advised to talk to your doctor first before giving in to different routines because of the hype.

Generally, when starting a running routine, you are advised to work with what you have and start where you are (3). You do not have to buy a treadmill machine for your running routine to bear fruits, instead, you can begin by road running.

Experts suggest you be kind to yourself and avoid breaking your back to fit someone else’s definition of perfect (3). If road running is part of your routine, then so be it. It is an excellent calorie-burning activity and let no one tell you otherwise for performing it (3).

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  • Let Go Of The Intimidation Aspect

Over the years, a lot has been said about both road and trail running. As a result, you will find many non-runners claiming trail running is unsafe, road running leads to accidents, or running is meant for pros. Such beliefs intimidate and discourage prospective runners who then choose not to start such programs based on these intimidations.

This is one of the many barriers that prospective runners have had to break before giving either road or trail running a shot. However, according to NBC News, running is not for anyone specific, so you should not feel bad about not following a running routine (3).

It is all in your mind, and once you learn how to control your thinking, you realize that you can do almost anything, regardless of what people say. So, give it a shot!

The Bottom Line

Road and trail running are some excellent running routines to undertake for fitness and weight loss. However, when comparing trail running vs. road running, you realize that each has pros and cons. Be sure to talk to your doctor and trainer before you try out any of these activities. Additionally, remember to apply the tips we shared to make your running routine more efficient. Good luck!

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