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7 Tips for Beginner Trail Workouts7 Tips for Beginner Trail Workouts


Beginner trail runner workout

Outdoor exercise can boost motivation and burn more calories, but with uneven terrain and unexpected weather conditions, it can be challenging. These tips will help you prepare before taking your workout to the trail.

Pick the right path

Choose a trail distance that is appropriate for your fitness level. Keep in mind that running or walking on a trail can be more physically challenging than a similar workout on the road or treadmill. Do your research first, and take a map with you. If you accidentally set out on the 7-mile trail, meaning to take the 4-mile loop, you might end up with a harder, longer workout than what you can handle.


Tell someone the details of your workout – where you will be, what trail you are using, and how many miles you plan to complete. Carry a form of ID, and your cell phone. You never know how isolated the trail may be, or when a pulled muscle or cramp will stop you in your tracks.

Practice wildlife safety

Educate yourself on general wildlife safety before heading out on a trail. Know what animals can be found in your area. Consider carrying bear spray if it is recommended. Also, research the hunting seasons. Seek the advice of wildlife officers on what parks or trails to avoid during this time of year.

Respect plants and the environment

Plants such as Poison Ivy and Poison Oak often line the edge of trails, and once the leaves come into contact with your skin an itchy rash can develop. When running on narrow or overgrown trails, consider wearing tall socks that cover your lower legs. Stay in the center of the path to avoid stepping off of marked areas. Overtime, stepping off the marked trail widens paths—leading to erosion and damaging plant life.

Wear the right shoes

If you decide to include trail exercise in your regular workouts, it’s a good idea to invest in a pair of trail shoes. Shoes designed for trail running and walking have a thick sole and toe guards to protect your feet from the rough terrain. The tread on these shoes is also better designed to grip the ground, improving traction as you maneuver over rocky hills and around tight turns.

Prepare for temperature changes

Keep in mind that the temperature and weather conditions once you are out on the trail can be drastically different. It may be cooler due to a climb in elevation or shaded areas; it could be raining; or it may be hot and humid. Dress in layers so that you are prepared for any change in weather. It is dependent on the season, but as a general rule the first layer should be a moisture-wicking shirt, the second a warming layer such as fleece, and the third a wind-breaker to protect you from the elements. You can remove and add layers, and tie unused ones around your waist as the temperatures fluctuate.

Make smart water and snack choices

For longer workouts, it is wise to carry water, and sometimes a snack. Small hiking and running backpacks with a water bladder (e.g. Camelbaks), or waist belts that hold small water bottles are ideal. Trail mixes, bars, and dried fruit work well for a light-weight, nutritious snack. But be aware of any recommendations regarding food and wildlife in your area.

Lori Rice, M.S., is a nutritional scientist and author with a passion for healthy cooking, exercise physiology, and food photography.
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