How to Run on Rocky Trails

Get fit—and have fun—on steep and technical terrain.
trail runner

A runner at the Ruta De Las Fortalezas trail race. (Photo by Pedro Semitiel/Flickr)

Ditch the watch or at least your ego.

The nature of varied terrain—uphills, downhills, roots, rocks—means every mile will be different and very different from anything you run on the road.


Your body will better adapt to any potential misstep. Focus on keeping your shoulders loose and not hunched up by your ears.

Choose a line

Look a few paces in front of you, and focus on where you want to run (as opposed to that pile of roots you want to avoid). Your body will follow.

Widen your arm swing

This gives you more balance on the trail; it also helps in keeping your chest open, letting you breathe more freely.

Drive those arms

They’re like pistons: Power comes from your arms and transfers through your body to help propel your legs. Especially on long climbs, focus on a powerful arm swing.

Stay upright

When running up steep hills, avoid leaning over too far at the waist. Bending over too much compresses your lungs.

Keep your hips under you

On all surfaces but especially on downhills, aim to keep your hips in line with your shoulders instead of sticking your rear end out behind you, tucking your tailbone, or leaning too far back.

Shorten your stride

Take quick, short steps and land flat-footed. This enhances agility as you pick your way through trail obstacles—and can keep your quads and hamstrings from screaming during a long descent.