Does Trail Running Build Muscle?

When you think of training that builds muscle, running might not be the first exercise that comes to mind. However, trail running helps build muscle in a multitude of ways and is one of the most effective ways to build strong legs and define your abdominal muscles.

Below, we will go over all the ways that trail running will help build your muscles and get you ripped! Keep in mind that everyone’s bodies are different and build muscle in unique ways. However, trail running is still a great way for everyone to exercise and get strong!

How Does Trail Running Build Muscle?

If you’ve ever done any sort of running training, you probably know that it can do amazing things for your legs. Trail running takes this type of exercise to the next level with obstacle-like terrain and steep inclines. But if you think running on a flat surface is hard work, running on a trail is a next-level workout.

How Does Trail Running Benefit Your Leg Muscles?

There are four main muscle groups in your lower body that trail running helps train. The calves, the quads, the hamstrings, and the glutes all receive an extensive workout from trail running. In fact, most trail runners will tell you that running trails burns your leg muscles. Others say it makes the leg muscles scream.

Those somewhat terrifying notions aside, trail running builds immense leg strength and training capacity. There are few exercises that are better for building leg muscle than running trails.

Having healthy leg muscles, especially glute muscles, is incredibly important for any runner. Strong glutes help maintain healthy knees, calves, and hips.

How Does Trail Running Benefit Core Strength?

Trail running is unique because not only does it build muscle, but it also burns calories. Most exercises that work your abs do not burn a ton of calories, so while you may be making your core stronger, it’s unlikely you will see the fruits of your labor.

Since trail running both burns calories and builds core muscles, it’s a fast way to get defined abdominal muscles. Additionally, if you want to build a strong core, trail running is a great place to start out.

Starting out training abs without building a strong core is a great way to get injured. Beginning your ab training with trail running will help you build a strong core so that you can do abdominal exercises without a large risk of injury.

Keep in mind that trail running doesn’t only train your main “six-pack” abdominals. You will see and feel a difference in your lower back, hip flexors, and pelvic muscles. Trail running can also help back extensors and lateral trunk muscles, all of which are important parts of being a happy, healthy individual!

How Does Trail Running Benefit Your Heart?

Yes, for anyone who didn’t know, the heart is a muscle. And trail running is a great way to train it and maintain its health.

Trail running is an aerobic exercise, meaning it requires a large amount of oxygen intake. When you’re forced to breathe more deeply, your heart will pump more blood to your hard-working muscles. While you’re working your legs trying to make your way up a steep hill, you’re training your heart at the very same time.

A healthy heart provides a ton of great benefits, including a faster metabolism, less intense fatigue, and increased energy!

Trail running can also have massive effects on your heart rate. Many trail runners report feeling incredibly out of breath when they first start training and quickly adapting to their training regimens. After a bit of training, many runners detailed a lower resting heart rate, which is great for all aspects of health.

Other Benefits Of Trail Running

While trail running trains and builds strong muscles, there are several other benefits that come along with this form of exercise. If you’re interested in those, we’ll go over them in detail below.

Trail Running Helps Maintain A Healthy Bodyweight

A healthy body weight is needed to build muscle and muscle definition. You need to maintain a balance between the calories you have coming in and the ones you’re burning.

Trail running helps increase your metabolism, which in turn will help you burn calories and fat. If you’re looking to trim a bit of extra fat off your body, running trails is a great place to start.

Trail Running Helps Increase Endurance

Increasing the distance that you’re able to run can improve many aspects of your health, including increasing muscle definition. While short bursts of trail running can improve muscle mass, longer distances will help give your muscles the tone you’re likely looking for.

Increased endurance can help in many other aspects of fitness. Heart, respiratory, and cognitive health can all be improved through learning to run longer distances on trails!

Trail Running Helps Improve Recovery Time

As with endurance, your recovery time as a trail runner will likely improve the more you do it. Our bodies become more adapt to recovery the more they’re subjected to a certain type of exercise, like running trails.

Keep in mind, along with normal bodily recovery, there are some things you can do to speed up your recovery time. Since trail running often occurs over long distances and burns a ton of calories, it’s important that runs are accompanied by adequate consumption of protein so your muscles can recover.

What About My Arms? Should I Still Lift Weights If I Trail Run?

Trail running focuses heavily on your legs and core. In order to maximize your total body fitness, consider a strong HIIT or Functional Fitness routine. This will complement your trail running while working oft forgotten muscles. Just make sure to get plenty of nutrition to fuel muscle growth.

You can even work the upper body on the trail by dropping down to do some pushups. Whatever you choose, be safe while running on the trails.


Does trail running build muscles? Both the short and the long answers are YES! Trail running works wonders for so many different aspects of health and fitness, including building muscle mass and definition. This is especially true of the muscles in your legs, especially your glutes, your core, and your heart.

As long as you take your recovery seriously and don’t overexert yourself when you’re first starting out, running trails can help you build strong, healthy muscles for a very long time!


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