Trail running training plan: get fitter and faster in just four weeks

Our off-road trail running training plan will help you get fitter, faster and stronger in just half an hour three times a week

Man and woman running over hills at sunset as part of a trail running training plan
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Swap tarmac for the trail with our four-week trail running training plan – and you could melt fat and burn 10% more calories than normal.

Trail running has exploded in popularity in recent years, particularly during lockdown when people craved ways to keep fit and connect with nature. 

And, considering the body benefits you can get just by heading off the beaten track, it's not surprising that so many people have invested in a pair of the best trail running shoes and headed into the great outdoors.

The constant challenge of different terrains, gradients and environments – whether you’re running through grassy fields, on forest paths, over rocky hills or beaches – not only helps build fitness, but also bodily strength.

'Running on uneven ground forces us to engage our core and upper leg muscles more than normal,’ explains personal trainer Scott Laidler. ‘It helps develop stronger muscles in our lower legs, ankles and feet, while also targeting our ligaments and connective tissues, which helps improve our power and drive, and over time reduces our risk of impact injury.’

It’s a great cardio workout too. There’s no chance of relaxing into a predictable jogging pattern. With sudden shifts in gradients and the potential en-route obstacle, you’ll ramp your heart rate up in no time and break a serious sweat.

Still not convinced? ‘Getting outdoors and into nature helps reduce stress levels, often associated with urban environments,’ says Laidler. We’re sold!

Four-week trail running training plan

Laidler has created a four-week trail running training plan that is ideal for beginners or anyone wanting to improve their current performance.

It includes tempo runs to improve fitness, endurance runs to increase muscular endurance and strength, and Fartlek (unpredictable, varied pace) runs to ramp up speed. 

Laidler's top tip? Take your eye off your running watch. ‘This isn’t your normal cardio training where you aim to complete a particular distance in a certain time,' he says. 'Take it slowly and pace yourself, as you don’t know what kind of obstacle will be around the corner.'

Staying safe is also important. Laidler recommends that new trail runners join a local group, which has assigned routes and leaders. Or if you are heading out alone? ‘Tell someone which route you’re going and when you’ll be back, and take your phone.’

Week 1

Workout 1: Tempo Hill Runs

  • Start with a 10-minute jog on flat ground
  • Run uphill for 30 seconds at 60% effort, then slowly jog down hill
  • Repeat this six times 
  • Finish with another 10-minute jog on the flat to cool down

Workout 2: Endurance Runs

  • Run out for 15 minutes
  • Turn around and try to complete the return run in under 15 minutes

Workout 3: Fartlek Runs

  • Run 3km in total at 50% effort
  • For every third tree you pass up your effort to 70% for 30 seconds (if you’re running in the woods, pick a type of tree so you’re not continually sprinting!)

Week 2

Workout 1: Tempo Hill Runs

  • Start with a 10-15 minute jog on flat ground 
  • Run uphill for 30 seconds at 70% effort, then slowly jog down hill 
  • Repeat this six times 
  • Finish with a 10-minute jog on the flat to cool down

Workout 2: Endurance Runs

  • Run for 15 minutes out – try to go further in distance than Week 1 
  • Turn around and try to complete the return run in under 15 minutes

Workout 3: Fartlek Runs

  • Run 3.5km in total at 50% effort
  • Repeat the tree rule for Week 1, plus for every dog walker you pass increase your pace to 80% for 30 seconds

Week 3

Workout 1: Tempo Hill Runs

  • Start with a 10-15 minute jog on flat ground
  • Run uphill for 30 seconds at 80% effort, then slowly jog down hill
  • Finish with a 10-minute jog on the flat to cool down

Workout 2: Endurance Runs

  • Run for 15 minutes out – try to go further than Week 2
  • Turn around and try to complete the return run in under 15 minutes

Workout 3: Fartlek Runs

  • Run 4km in total at 60% effort 
  • Follow the rules from Week 2 (trees and dog walkers), plus every time you see a bird run at 70% for 20 seconds, 80% for 10 seconds and 90% for five seconds, before returning to 60% effort

Week 4

Workout 1: Tempo Hill Runs

  • Start with a 10-15 minute jog on flat ground 
  • Run uphill for 30 seconds at 90-100% effort, then slowly jog down hill 
  • Repeat six times 
  • Finish with a 10-minute jog on the flat

Workout 2: Endurance Runs

  • Run for 15 minutes out – try to go further than Week 3 
  • Turn around and try and complete the return run in under 15 minutes

Workout 3: Fartlek Runs

  • Run 5km in total at 60% effort 
  • For every third tree run at 80% effort for 30 seconds
  • Every time you pass a dog walker increase your pace to 90% for 30 seconds
  • Every time you see a bird increase your pace to 80% for 20 seconds, 90% for 10 seconds and 100% for five seconds, before returning to 60%

Congratulations - you've completed our four-week trail running training plan! Share your progress with us on Instagram by tagging @wearefitandwell. And for more advice, take a look at our trail running tips article.

Natalia Lubomirski
Natalia Lubomirski

Natalia is a health and fitness journalist who has written for the likes of Woman & Home and Marie Claire, and likes to practice what she preaches when it comes to staying fit and well. She loves the outdoors and would happily swap the treadmill for the trail at any opportunity. As such, in her free time you'll likely find her up a mountain somewhere. She has hiked eight of the major mountain ranges across four continents, including the Appalachians, the Smokies, the Sierra Nevadas (where she hiked to the top of Half Dome during her honeymoon) and the Atlas Mountains, as well hitting the summits of Snowdon and Pen-Y-Fan (Brecon Beacons), Table Mountain in South Africa and the Blue Mountains in Australia. She was also a fencer for 13 years, wielding an epée for Team GB during her teenage years. Having recently welcomed a baby, Natalia is currently getting back into her fitness routine, and has her sights set on completing a triathlon, something she and her husband started out on before their bundle of joy arrived.