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Recover Smart

Trail running can cause more muscle breakdown than running on flat ground, because your leg muscles are contracting eccentrically for longer, Roche says. The breakdown is good because it leads to muscle growth and increased strength, but it also means you'll need to take care of your muscles to prevent injury. Make time to foam roll for 10 minutes a day, focusing on your quads, hips, butt, calves, and shins, he recommends. (Also try runner-friendly yoga poses to keep muscles loose.)

Train Off-Trail

Leg and core strength are key for thriving on the trails, Roche says. He suggests doing three minutes of lunges—one front, one lateral, one rear, then switching legs—and one minute of step-ups on a box every other day. Then work up to one minute each of front and side planks. "Those seven minutes can make a big difference," Roche says. (Use these bodyweight moves as a guide to strengthen off the trail.)

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Let It Go On the Way Down

On steep descents, your natural instinct is to throw on the brakes by digging in your heels, Hicks says. "But that's actually quite impactful on your skeleton, because it doesn't allow your muscles to absorb the shock of your landing," she says. Instead, adjust your cadence by speeding up your footfall. "Think of your foot just tapping the ground before it comes immediately up again," Hicks says. And try to land with your entire foot—this ensures all the lugs on the outsole of your shoe are digging into the ground, which prevents you from falling.

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Lean In On the Uphill

Your body's most efficient posture for running hills is to hinge (from your hips) slightly toward the incline, which brings your center of gravity forward, Hicks says. As you climb, use your arms to help propel you by driving the swing, both forward and back.

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Mix Things Up

Just like road running, you can change up the types of workouts you do on trail, says Meghan Hicks, an ultra runner and a coauthor of Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running. The difference is that you need to choose your path wisely. A trail with many obstacles can improve your agility, and if you want to build strength, hike up a trail and run downhill to work your quads. On the flip side, for speed work, head to a spot that's relatively flat and clear—wading through a creek midway won't help you get your heart rate up.

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