Comparing Trail Running vs Road Running

Comparing Trail Running vs Road Running

When the trails call, do you answer it?

Or just let it ring?

While there are similarities between trail running and road running (for example, they both require running) there are some shockingly big differences as well. This blog will address key points to factor in on which activity best suits your needs for the day.

What is trail running?

Trail running is when you run in nature. This is done on hiking trails, wooded areas, mountainous terrain, or any dirt surface.

What is road running?

Road running is when you run on the man-made paved roads. This is done on roads, sidewalks, and any paved surface of asphalt or concrete.

Now that we officially know what the two are, let’s get right into the comparison game. In today’s lesson, we will address which activity excels the most in the following categories –

  • Convenience
  • Speed
  • Workout
  • Experience

Let the friendly comparison between trail running and road running begin.

What’s more convenient?

For the vast majority of us, running on the road is always going to be more convenient than running on the trail. Chances are you live in a place where you can walk out your front door, take a few steps and then immediately start pounding the pavement into the civilized world. It’s hard to beat the ease of that.

Running in nature takes a commute. And having to commute to a local trail is definitely less convenient than taking a few steps away from your door. Plus, once you commute there, you’ll have to commute back. Which is a double whammy and something to take into consideration if you’re in a time crunch.

What’s more convenient? Road running.

What brings more speed?

Road running is faster than trail running. When you’re on the road the surface is flat, firm, and consistent. Everything about it is predictable and all you have to focus on is putting one foot in front of the other on a straight, forward trajectory. You have your stride down, you have your pace down, and there’s nothing else to do or think about then to go full speed ahead with little to no distractions.

Trail running is going to be slower than road running. Why? Because the ground is softer, uneven, and has more obstacles. When you’re on the trail you’ll have to shorten your stride to maneuver around tree roots, rocks, dirt, mud, branches, etc. It’s wild out there, and there’s a lot of distractions that require you to watch your footing or else you’ll take a tumble. Therefore, trail runners typically prioritize their focus on balance and mobility before they focus on speed.

Got the need for speed? Hit the road.

What’s the better workout?

Let us first say that if you’re running on either roads or trails, you’re doing good already. So you really can’t go wrong here. But if we were to give the upper hand to what’s the better workout, trail running it is.

Here’s why –

Studies have shown that trail running burns up to 10% more calories than road running. This is because you’re running on and through uneven terrain and elevation changes. When you trail run, you’re going to use more of your core for stability, quads for putting the brakes on downhill descents, glutes to power you through uphill climbs, and calves to push off on as you maneuver through the great outdoors. By engaging more of your muscles, you’re going to strengthen your cardiovascular system further, burn additional calories, and build better strength and power at a quicker rate than you would running on the road.

Want to get the best workout? Go trail running.

What’s the better experience?

Although less convenient and slower, trail running wins this round as well. Running in nature, unplugged from the noise and chaos of the concrete jungle, will refresh both your mind and your spirit along the way.

Let’s face it, the biggest knock against running on the streets is that it can get pretty dull. There’s a ton of repetitive foot strikes, it’s hard on your joints, and there’s not a lot out there to keep your mind alive.

When trail running, it’s more adventure-based. You’re forced to focus on the present moment and the environment around you – keeping your brain occupied and alert. Plus, at the same time, being out in nature has a calming, peaceful effect that can be therapeutic for your brain and boosts your mental health. Which is definitely an added bonus to the great outdoors.

Looking for the best running experience? Get out in nature and onto the trails.

Final Thoughts 

When comparing trail running vs road running, there’s going to be pros and cons to both – sort of like everything else in this world. The fact of the matter is, there is no right or wrong path to choose. It’s whatever fits best for you that day. Our unsolicited advice? Try to incorporate them both into your calendars. That tends to yield the strongest results. The most important thing is that you’re getting out there – anywhere. And whether that’s the messy, uneven, and raw environment known as nature. Or the straight, clean, and smooth roads. Just keep charging forward and you’ll always be a winner.