Training to Fall (and Other “Odd” Training Tips)

As I struggled to carry the dog kennel up the forty stairs to our house last Saturday night I realized just how weak my upper body really is. Damn weak. For some, this would be a cue to hit the gym to improve their running speed while others would take the hint to get their beach bod ready. Not me. Nope. Instead, the incident got me thinking that I’m not prepared for a summer’s worth of trail falls. It’s just a matter of course that I’ll catch a toe on a rock or root and eat dirt – hard – a couple dozen times between April and November. Sometimes, I’ll luck out, tuck a shoulder, roll, and pop right back up. The rest of the time I’m accelerating face first toward the unforgiving earth at 9.8 m/s2. Sadly, my upper body, in its current form, is going to do little to slow the inevitable face plants. That’s why I jumped right into a daily pushup regimen. I’m not looking to get big or even particularly strong. I just want a little more say in whether my teeth meet terra firma this summer. That’s it from me… I’ve got to go do another set of 15 pushups. Yup, that’s all.

Call for Comments
Anyone else have odd motivators for supplemental training or something that they consider supplemental training that’s a bit out of the box? Who out there works on hamstring flexibility in order to clear blow downs over the trail? Who walks up ten flights of stairs to the office twice a day to get ready for that mountain race? Let us know!

There are 29 comments

  1. Anthony

    I lift M,W,F. I run T,Th,Sa. I bike on Su and commute to/from work on my bike on nice days. I throw in 30 minutes of yoga before bed once in a while. Saturday runs are finished off with 25 pull/push/sit-ups. If there were a dip bar at the park where I run on Saturdays, I would throw that in there too. I am not the best runner, biker, or lifter, but I am generally fit and haven't missed a workout in over three years.

  2. Jon

    40-60 pushups per night seem to do the trick for me. I try to vary up hand positions so I work different areas. Motivation for the gym just never seems to work and pushups are a quick, easy and free.

  3. Cynthia

    That's a new way of looking at the benefits of push-ups, and one that will make me gripe less when I do them. For me, it's putting extra effort when going up stairs. At work I concentrate on the muscles I use and at home I sprint up them. I do a regular leg workout at home (squats, lunges, etc.) but my hope is that this small extra effort sprinkled throughout my day will make a difference when I tackle a hill.

  4. Trail Clown

    I can do maybe 10 push-ups on a good day…I gave up a long time ago trying to build upper bod strength. So my strategy is to run verrryyyy carefully…but the other day run-commuting into DC in the new Trail Minimus, I caught one shoe on the other shoe's long shoelace (has anyone else noticed how long the Minimus' laces are??) and went down in front of about 10 other people….luckily my backpack took the brunt of the fall, and my ego was bruised more than my body. Good luck on your season's worth of falling…don't do it on the upper ridges at UMTB!

  5. ScottTomKretz

    My upper body is always humbled when I start going on long runs again in the spring and carry my handhelds for the first time in months. I now try to do some fairly regular lightweight lifts with dumbbells throughout the winter, and have even found swimming to be a great workout to get me ready for lugging my full bottles for hours at a time. And, even though I get some pretty odd looks, I've been using my handhelds for any trip to the elliptical as I nurse an achilles injury.

  6. Paige T

    Push-ups are great, even the "girl" kind :) I do 16-20 girlie PUps each morning, along with a buttload of planks (those are my favorite). I also do side leg lifts, laying down, to strengthen the hips, MWF, and then side steps with a rubber band (for the same reason) on T and TR. I like to throw in a day of lunges once a week, too (bulgarian split squats, walking lunges, side lunges, sumo squats…all done barefoot). All that stuff seems to have done wonders over the last 6 months, plus I love doing it :) Crossing my fingers for a zero crash season, lol!

  7. swampy

    I do upper body work but I incorporate core by standing on a bosu ball during the exercise. I have noticed a marked improvement in stamina in the 3 months I have been doing it.

  8. Mark

    Long time ago I started with sprint (100 and 200m) and lifting weights. Today I'm 37 and run longer distances, circa 35-40 miles per week. See the huge benefits of keeping going to the gym. Never got injured, never had problems with lower back. As for technique, nothing can replace old fashioned free weights. IMO, the combination of strength and balance (improved with free weights, not machines) is the key to injury free running.

  9. Bruce

    I learned the hard way over the winter that neglecting my core causes injury. I had a fall at the beginning of a half that ended up hurting my hip for months and then snow shoveling did my back in. I had to do several weeks of PT to get things back to where they needed to be and had to not run for about a month. I have been faithful in cross training with weights and core exercises since and it has made a big difference. For me, cross-training is a must!

  10. Mike

    My upper body routine consists primarily of lifting our two kids around throughout the day – into the car, into/out of the tub, the occasional playful kid bench press (pushing them up like a bench press routine), and into their room for a time-out.

  11. Kovas

    The 100 Pushup Challenge is a good way to work toward strengthening your upper body, including core. The 3x/week plan is a good way to stay on task as well.

  12. EricG

    Even though the bottles we carry are only 20 ounces, carrying 2 for 24 hours or more can wear on a person. I actually do exercises specifically for this. I follow the 3 set theory but I use very light weights, say 8-12 lb dumbbells and will do 50 to 100 reps per set of curls (different versions) and jumping jacks with flys and shoulder presses. Peace E

  13. Dave Mackey

    Hey Bry.. Honestly, I would forego pushups in favor of core strengthening. If your goal is to be a better runner, then core sit ups and crunches are where it is at. Strong core equals a stronger supported lower back as well, which means better energy transfer in the horizontal and vertical running planes.

    I feel like I tire more easily and get sore in the midsection after hard training and races, which tells me I am weak in these areas which are crucial to running well.

    A few pushups may be okay to help you not be sore from carrying water bottles in races, and maybe impressing your girlfriend, but your ripped abs will turn her on as well.


    1. Bryon Powell

      Sometime when I get serious about trail running again, core work will be a part of it. In the not too distant past, I've done either the wheel of pain or plank circuits. For now, I am sincerely more worried about hurting myself out there. My upper body is a serious liability. :-)

      1. Speedgoat Karl

        If you want to learn how "not to fall" Just crash hard a few times, you'll figure it out.

        Back in the day when I was tele skiing alot, a friend and I used to do laps around Sugarhouse park here in SLC, lunging forward and rolling, this taught us how to crash without breaking wrists. I went over the handlebars alot learning how to tele ski.

        1. MikeC

          I am pretty well versed in falling; at the crag, on the slopes, mtb riding, and running…

          -Posterior chain work(single leg deadlifts are great) helps you catch yourself before you go down and gives you some meat to absorb the low back impact.

          -The TucknRoll is not natural, an acquired skill best learned on a powder day or high jump mats. The table slide with rolling dismount is excellent training and doubles as a crowd pleasing party trick.

          -Don't forget post fall maintenance(didn't need this at age 18, only thing I miss about being a teenager). I do a short yoga session for a couple weeks after a big fall. Like a lot of us, as a corporate desk jockey I'm certain sitting all day doesn't help recovery…. have to make an effort to get up and move around…

  14. Evan

    Yeah, I neglected my core muscles a bit, and with a combination of other small problems, this made me pull my hip flexor, which really is not fun. It takes forever to recover. Plus side is that I had plenty of time to work on my upper body!

  15. Rob L

    I've found jump rope to help with running. The rope I have has weighted handles, which helps the upper body a bit, but the real benefit is to core and balance – especially when changing the speed of the rope and doing a little fancy footwork.

  16. Erika

    I am a former gymnast and now a full time coach and have found that the same plyometric and strength conditioning I give my gymnasts has been a big help to me as a trail runner, especially when it comes to my body handling falls. I incorporate jump rope, box jumps, rope climbs, pullups, dips, handstands, pushups, and a ton of relative strength training into my normal training week 3 times a week. Crossfit too, is very similar, and I like their olympic lifts. For flexibility (which I seriously lack now) I do some dynamic stretching relative to running: swing kicks in all directions and some active flexibility work too.

  17. Jason

    I use hockey as crosstraining. Does wonders for my core and I can have fun all winter long.A regular stretching routine as well as regular lifting generate overall fitness to handle the rigors of trailrunning.Stretching has done wonders for me. As a former powerlifter I have plenty of strength and bone density to handle falls without serious results, but stretching 4-5 times a week has made a huge difference. I can tell when I miss a stretching session. I really dont feel much different if I miss a weight room workout.

  18. patrick

    not that i'm really advocating this but:

    i skateboarded for 10 years and we used have a little thing called the IAR (impact absorption roll). it was a tremendous joke amongst skaters, even though people did occasionally use it.

    later, i did judo for a while and the first stage of training is learning to fall, or i guess learning to be thrown across the room and not get hurt. it's the same deal as the skateboarding move: you learn to catch the ground with one hand, roll across your shoulder blades and then pop back up to standing using the momentum from the fall.

    through these two bizarre and seemingly unrelated activities, that damn impact absorption roll is so ingrained in me that i now have had falls out on the trails that i don't even realize have happened until a mile later.

    good luck on the push-ups, careful with your shoulders.

  19. Alex


    I have been consious of a poor core and not enough upper body strength, so introduced a routine in january 2011 which is to be done every day.

    January – 25 push ups a day (wide, grip, normal and decline press ups), 40 secs side plank (either side) and 40 secs plank, and 40 secs reverse plank

    February – – 30 push ups a day, 45 secs side plank (either side) and 45 secs plank, and 45 secs reverse plank

    And so on with 5 pushs up or seconds increase month on month.

    My lower back (sacroiliac joint) injury has improved, due to a strenghtened core and my upper body strength is improving I would say faster than the monthly increase in press ups.

    it takes no more than 5 minutes in total each day and is usually done in front of the TV every evening.

  20. Gailanne

    My routine consists of lots of Power Vinyasa Yoga. I regularly practise Ashtanga and the Baptiste Power Vinyasa flow. With a lot of Sun Salutations, you will be building upper body strength in no time. A lot of the poses in yoga also build up core strength, as well as stability and flexibility in the hips and pelvic region – great compliments for running. Core strength is the key to developing upper body strength, as well as lower body strength and stability. In fact, I can't get enough of hip openers, Sun Salutations, and arm balances (which requires core and upper body strength) :-)

    I have found that since I started practising yoga, my running has actually improved. Last year, due to yoga teacher training, my overall running was significantly reduced as most of the weekends were dedicated to the actual training. However, when I got back out on the trails, I noticed huge shifts with my body. Chronic injuries became minor irritants and I felt so much lighter and free. Even falling feels comfortable when you know how to breathe through it :-)

    I also do some weight lifting through CrossFit but not as often as I used to. Swimming is also a great strength builder as is pool running in the deep end (with a belt) when you are required to engage the core and keep the arms moving.

    I have taken the liberty to source a potential studio for you in Park City, UT (provided you live close to the mailing address). The details are as follows:

    Tadasana Yoga

    2700 W. Homestead Road, #10

    Park City


    Looking at the site, I see they also offer Bikram – another style that can help to build strength. This is in addition to the Power Vinyasa classes offered.

    Hope this helps you out!

  21. LMyles

    I goal would be not to fall. That would be the most desired skill.

    However, I normally trip or fall only when I am distracted, such as saying high to oncoming hikers as I blaze down the trail. I look up, say "hey" and then I eat dirt and they laugh.

    Like Patrick, I too acquired excellent falling skills from years of skateboarding. The harder you fall, the better you rolled out of it.

    Not tensing up during a fall is extremely important. I recently was Deep Water Solo Climbing and had to jump (pencil dive) 50' into the ocean from the top of the cliff. I tensed up a lot and hit the water flat footed and that gave me minor whip lash (only lasted a couple hours). If I had stretched before that could have made a difference on the severity of the pain too.

    From what I have seem, if you give kids wrist guards they will fall on their wrists and break the brace thus breaking their wrists.

  22. Adam

    I do squats and deadlifts, which will strengthen your upper body while adding to your already prodigious leg strength. But free weights are dangerous (at least for someone like me, who doesn't know what they're doing, and who doesn't have a trainer). I'm lucky to have only hurt my back once w/ this regimen. All in all, I think the benefits for me have far outweighed the cost, but body-weight exercises are safer. So I also do push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, and leg lifts. This combination has had a noticible effect on my core strength. The great thing about floor exercises is you can do them anywhere, anytime. So if you get into the habit of saying to yourself "why not hit the ground and do some push-ups" all the time as you go about your day, you'll gain a lot of strength in no time.

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