If you’re seeking out some tips for trail running, for beginners in particular, you’re in the right place. Prepare for a new exercise challenge and become more confident in your practice by reading our list of top tips before you set off on your trail.
In this article we will cover:
- What is Trail Running?
- Trail Running Tips
- Mistakes to Avoid
- Safety Precautions to Take
- Trail Running Etiquette
By the time you complete this article, nothing will be able to stop you from hitting the trail, but just before we begin; are you an exercise fanatic who would love a career in fitness? If so, you might want to check out our personal training courses on offer here at OriGym.
Alternatively, you can browse through a plethora of our courses in our downloadable prospectus to find your fit.
One more thing, you can download your FREE 16 week half marathon training programme below!
Written by Professional S & C Coaches
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What is Trail Running?
Before we get into the tips and precautions you should take to ensure a safe run, it’s important we start this trail running beginners guide with a brief overview of what the activity consists of.
Trail running is the activity of running in the heart of nature; either in wooded areas or mountain terrain - essentially, a location where there is no visible pavement. It is a good idea to complete trail runnings within environments that have walking or hiking trails in them, so finding your way back home doesn't become complicated.
When it comes to trail running and getting started, it’s a sport focused around the experience of being outdoors - allowing the body to feel the benefits of exercising outside, in the fresh air on challenging terrains.
Trail running for beginners in the UK is a widely practiced activity and thankfully, there are courses scattered around the country. It includes, and combines, activities such as hill running, hiking, fell and mountain running. All of these are demanding sports, so by combination, are a force to be reckoned with.
If you’re a seasoned runner but have never tried trail running, brace yourself for an entirely different challenge. Trail running for beginners is intimidating, so it’s important to be aware of the new type of physical challenges that arise; the first and most predominant difference being the terrain and how it can affect the body.
Now that you have some information about what is actually required of the sport, read ahead for our trail running beginners guide, with some useful training tips you’ll need in order to master any trail you encounter!
If you’re still unsure about giving trail running a chance, check out the mental health benefits of running here in our article.
Trail Running Tips
We’ll begin this guide into trail running for beginners by explaining some of the technical tips you’ll find useful, before heading off to the trail; these tips are to help you get prepared for hitting one of the popular sites of trail running for beginners, in the UK.
#1 Buy The Right Gear
Buying the correct gear is essential for just about any kind of fitness regime, and before we provide you with some practical trail running techniques for beginners, our first tip is to ensure you have the correct gear to engage in the activity to begin with.
First and foremost you’re going to want to invest in a pair of trail shoes, similar to running trainers, but ones that provide your feet with the traction, protection and stability they need when running off road.
The best trail running shoes for beginners provide traction to the lugs on their outsole, this thick rubber soul with deep indentations ensures grip, and prevents risk of falling in the mud or over any gravel.
Another reason to opt for a pair of trail running shoes is the protection they provide for the feet; with stiff rock plates in the forefoot of the shoe, your foot is then protected from sharp rocks, branches and other debris whilst on the trail.
As for your kit, dress according to whatever you would wear during your regular runs, and of course what is weather-appropriate - but remember to stay as comfortable as possible.
Additional gear for beginner trail running may include a headlamp - this is an important safety measure for newbies to the sport. Naturally, when running there is reliance on the light provided by street lights.
However, when running in terrain off road you won’t have any artificial light; this is why it’s so important that you invest in a head lamp, to ensure you can see everything in front of you.
To stay motivated, choose from the best bluetooth running headphones here.
#2 Network: Get Advice on Where to Get Started
If you’re looking for a trail running training program for beginners, a great piece of advice is to network within your local area.
Trail running in groups can provide excellent information to those of you who are new to the practice, and if you want to learn from people of all different skill levels, it’s a good idea to join your local group.
Running groups also provide great motivation and encouragement to do better, thanks to the power of positive camaraderie. If you are looking for a local group to run with, going into your local running or outdoor-speciality store and asking for advice is mutually beneficial.
The individuals who are working in the store may be able to give personal advice about trail running, sell useful products, or at least point you in the correct direction.
#3 Stay at Your Own Pace
As we discuss trail running for beginners in greater detail, there are particular ways recommended on how to approach trail running from a technique and pacing standpoint.
So, if you’re someone who is obsessed with running the furthest and the fastest, trail running may not be for you. This is due to its uneven terrain and tricky footing, as well as the significant elevation, therefore it requires you to run at a much slower pace.
Amongst the trail running tips for beginners, one to remember is to put yourself in the right frame of mind, by thinking of trail running as maintaining effort - rather than maintaining pace.
You may encounter many different kinds of terrain on your run, so in order to maintain your effort we’ll explain how we’d recommend approaching particular fields.
- Rocky/Gravel ground: Our biggest tip would be to look ahead! If you’re ever faced with terrain that is severely rocky, you’ll need to look ahead around 10-15 feet and plan your foot placement accordingly. Naturally, you won’t be able to see everything that lays ahead of you, so be aware of your footpath at all times.
- Running Downhill: Running downhill can be a little challenging, but with this trail running technique for beginners, you can prevent any fear or trepidation. Make sure you aren’t lunging too far forward in your strides, this way you avoid tumbling downhill!
- Uphill Running: Since this is an explanation into trail running for beginners, the most simplistic thing to remember is to focus on your line of sight and take frequent quick steps, but ensure that the pace overall is slow, this prevents burnout.
For comfortable running, view our list of the best cushioned running shoes.
#4 Eat Right and Fuel Up
If you’re looking for a trail running training plan for beginners, you may benefit from gaining some additional guidance on diet and nutrition.
Running any longer than 90 minutes depletes your glycogen levels, and will require you to top up and eat at some point during your run. The research shows that those who partake in trail running require a daily dietary carbohydrate intake of up to 12g.
The best way to consume carbohydrates for trail running is to eat during your run, so for every 90 minutes you run, you should take a fuel break approximately every 20-30 minutes.
This may sound like a lot, however you need to keep your body in optimum condition; the mistake most runners make when out on the track is waiting too long to eat, depleting their energy levels in the process.
If you’re looking to take a snack for your run, your local running or sports store will have an assortment of gels, bars and drink mixes to keep you going for your allotted time. But if you’re looking for something a little more substantial, the following are good recommendations:
- Sweet potato brownies
- Lots of nuts - Cashew, Almonds and Brazil
- Bagel with nut butter
#5 Stay Hydrated
The body is made up of 70% of water and it's essential for just about everything we as human beings do. We lose water through a number of natural processes, including: urine, breathing out water vapour and of course sweat, this is why when running, it is essential to stay hydrated.
Water acts as a natural coolant when our body temperature rises during exercise, so lack of hydration can cause blood volume to drop, with less blood returning back to the heart. If the heart pumps out less blood, then your oxygen levels will also begin to falter. This results in increased heart rate, fatigue and loss in performance.
Research stresses the importance of staying hydrated during trail, as you may be in direct sunlight and heat making the dehydration even worse. The participants took part in one hydrated run in the heat, and one dehydrated run in the heat. The results found that running when your body is dehydrated can cause you to lose body mass, so stay hydrated in order to stay fit.
This is vital when trying out trail running, for beginners particularly; further, if you don’t want to drink water and are looking for something else, sports drinks are also a good aid. There are three kinds of sports drinks: isotonic, hypotonic and hypertonic.
The first of which contains a similar composition of salt and sugar, isotonic drinks are easily absorbed, and are an effective way of rapidly replacing lost fluid and boosting glycogen levels.
For this reason, isotonic drinks are recommended for high intensity endurance events such as marathons; hypotonic drinks however are designed to quench your thirst.
They deliver little in terms of energy compared to the likes of isotonic drinks, but are more easily taken on by the body than even water. Finally, hypertonic drinks are those of which traditionally used to replenish your carbohydrate stores.
You can find our list of the best electrolyte drinks here over at our article.
#6 Consistency is Key
Similarly to other forms of exercise, a simple trail running training plan for beginners can progress onto the next level with time and consistency. Ultimately, the more you practice something, the easier becomes.
This is the same with trail running, if all of the aforementioned tips have given you some trepidation, then you can ease the fear and nervousness with consistency, and slowly build upon regular successessions.
Consistently trail running in the same area will allow you to acclimate to the environment, as you will be familiar with the surrounding areas footing, terrain and any inclines/declines you may face.
Consistency has more benefits than the physical ones too, fitting in this activity into your daily routine can become a habitual lifestyle encouragement. This can enhance means of organisation, time keeping, and even help your sleep schedule; alongside this is of course, the social benefits of meeting like minded enthusiasts.
To stay consistently motivated, you can read our extensive list of personal training motivation quotes here.
#7 Familiarise Yourself with Trail Markings
Trail running beginners, in particular, benefit immensely from considering trail markings.
Nobody wants to get lost, especially when you’re new to trail running; sometimes trails may be rather straightforward however, there are different levels of experience and thus, varied trail difficulties.
Trail markings can help indicate where your path is supposed to be and will guide you safely around the rest of the trail. These markings can appear in a multitude of ways, so it is important to be on the lookout for the following things.
- Hi-Visibility Tape: This can either be tied in tree branches to indicate your path or it could alternatively be used as a barrier to stop you from running into an off trail area.
- Spray Paint - When running you may see that several trees have been sprayed with a red printed ‘X’ this will indicate the route you should take.
- Fixed Signs - This is the more obvious marking of the three, as signs will often feature arrows directly pointing where your route should be.
So, keep these points in mind before you set off on your first trail running trip, they may just save you from getting lost.
#8 Pair with Cross Training
As a beginner, trail running may be initially beneficial to your body, however, running too much can cause some strain and injury to your tendons and joints. This is why it can be advantageous to combine trail running with cross training; which is essentially a training routine that involves various exercises and muscle groups.
Since trail running is conducted outside, it can be paired with numerous sports - such as cycling, swimming and rock climbing if you’re feeling really adventurous. All of these activities can be performed in conjunction with trail running, and help to improve stamina and muscle mass.
This can be confirmed by the findings of a study which highlighted that cross training is beneficial to our bodies, presenting a low rate of injury compared to other sports. Over the course of three years, it was found that only 30% of the 3049 participants were injured at some point, the other 70% reported no signs of injury or muscle damage.
The research revealed the effectiveness of cross training is at protecting us from injury, and how by switching up our exercise routine, we will engage more muscles in our body preventing overstimulation of the same ones.
Before you take on any activity, stretching is vital, find out the importance of dynamic stretching here in our article.
#9 Set Goals for Yourself
Road runners may be accustomed to setting and smashing goals; however, when it comes to trail running, you will have to start from scratch when hitting the terrain.
Goals can be separated into three categories: outcome, performance and process. Outcome goals are all about interpersonal comparison, and in running, they’re prospects such as desired race results.
Performance goals are also associated with the end result, but are more personal and independent from other goals. The common examples of performance goals can be rooted in improving your technical skills; then, moving to process goals identify what behaviours occur in your performance.
Some goals recommend are:
- Running your first 5K with walking/cool down breaks interspersed between
- Running your first 5K without stopping
- Slowly build to 10K with some walking/cool down breaks
- Run an entire 10k without stopping
- Attempt to run half a marathon without stopping
- Run a full marathon length without stopping
#10 Enjoy Your Time Outdoors
One of the best tips for beginners trail running activities is to have fun! Enjoy your time outdoors, as it is a staple for both your physical, and mental health. It is always good to get outside and be somewhere that isn’t your home.
Make a healthy lifestyle change into something of a hobby and embrace the outdoors, whilst you may find this exercising technique hard to master at first, that's not to make it a bad experience.
When taking up trail running for beginners, you will see things during trail running you’d never see at a gym or on the street, so take your time on the run and allow yourself to truly be relaxed in the great outdoors.
When you’re exercising in the great outdoors, make sure your sight is not impaired, by checking out the best sports sunglasses on the market.
Trail Running Mistakes to Avoid
Now that we have covered trail running technique for beginners, it is just as important to be prepared for any mistakes you could encounter when starting this journey. We here at OriGym will do our best to offer you some simple solutions, in order to ensure that your trail running journey is as smooth as possible.
#1 Going Too Fast, Too Soon
Running is a high impact sport, it requires body strength and can severely damage joints and ligaments if performed incorrectly. Participants should typically train their body up to a certain level before encountering the ability to run frequently at a great speed.
A report published in the BMJ-British Medical Journal found that the best way to train for long distance running isn’t pushing yourself constantly, but rather it is through building a repetitive pattern; typically, training for 20-30 minutes a day in order is sufficient to build stamina and speed.
Running too fast is an easy mistake that many new trail runners encounter, the activity shouldn’t be approached in the same manner as the performance of everyday running; in fact trail running must be taken on as a brand new challenge.
To be well prepared with all the gear you need for a successful running trip, find the following articles to get the best of the best:
- 10 Best Running Head Torches to Brighten your Run
- 12 Best Running Water Bottles to Keep you Hydrated
- 13 Best Running Gels to Fuel your Workouts
Become a Personal Trainer with OriGym!
#2 Not Keeping a Running Log
A vital trail running technique for beginners is to keep track of your runs in a running log. This is mainly because these types of journals can be a great source of knowledge for you to reflect upon your progress. Ultimately, tracking your week or month and viewing what has affected your overall performance.
Keeping track of your mileage will stop you from over or under training, and judging how far you’ve run will allow you to find the perfect balance between training and resting days. Additionally, running logs that document the terrain you’ve run on in the past, may offer insight into your body's limitations and strengths.
You may find that it's a struggle on the days you decide to focus on uphill runs, or on rockier paths, you’re under performing. Ultimately keeping a running log will only benefit you in the long run; so, it is a must for trail running beginners.
#3 Listen to Your Body - Not Your Route
When trail running, you are undoubtedly going to encounter an environment that you struggle with, what that is will be entirely subjective to you and your body.
But since we’re providing trail running tips for beginners, it is essential to know your limitations. If you ever come to a terrain, incline or decline and any area that makes you feel uneasy, it is a good idea to avoid this until you feel well prepared.
As beginners, you may want to progress and challenge yourself, but if you truly don’t believe you can continue on with the trail there is no shame in turning back; infact, it provides motivation to progress.
Running in the direction you came will still continue your exercise routine, and will allow you to grow in confidence when it comes to trail running. Though some tasks seem intimidating, with confidence - one day it will be more doable; so, don’t make the mistake of putting yourself in danger, just to progress.
If you find you’re running low on energy, you may benefit from reading our article on the best foods for energy to fuel up before your run.
#4 Skipping Rest Days
We have already discussed how running can affect your joints and ligaments, this is why it is so important to take regular rest periods to allow the muscles to repair and improve.
If you continue to skip rest days, you run the risk of developing ‘exercise burnout’. This can ultimately cause you to not only develop physical ailments such as pains and injuries, but also psychological issues too - such as the loss of desire to exercise.
However, this isn’t the worst thing that can happen from skipping leg days, overtraining syndrome is something that plagues athletes who have trained too hard, simply passed the point where your body can recover.
Overtraining syndrome has all the similar symptoms to burnout, such as chronic muscle pain and an increase in RHR; however, it can cause other more serious psychological issues such as depression, mood swings, poor sleeping pattern and loss of appetite,
Read all about the importance of rest days and how many you need here, to prevent any injuries or burn out.
Safety Precautions to Take
This beginners trail running safety guide covers all of the essential precautions that you need to know, take these on board in order to stay safe both before, and during your first run. Even those who have experienced trail running may find these tips useful for future runs; remember, your safety is paramount and when running alone you can never be too cautious.
#1 Research Your Route
It’s important to know what exactly you’re getting yourself into, which is why researching your route is so crucial for beginner trail running.
By researching your route online or through networking, you should be able to make certain assumptions about the run itself and adjust yourself accordingly. For example, finding information on how long the route should take allows you to decide if you want to run the entire journey or just a segment.
An important trail running for beginners safety tip is to run half of your regular run time in one direction, then head back in the direction you came. This will allow you to ease into a un-familiar terrain without tiring yourself out too deep into the trail.
Researching your route will also give you important information about the local wildlife and plants you may encounter, allowing you to prepare accordingly. For example, finding out that there the rote features stinging nettles allows you to dress accordingly to avoid getting hurt.
For those tricky routes, browse our list of the best mens trail running shoes here.
#2 Tell Someone Where You’re Going or Bring a Friend
Exploring new areas that are not heavily populated is quite the daunting challenge, for even the most experienced runner.
Because of the dangers that come along with running alone, it is important that others know your route at all times. Even if you simply text a photo of said route to your friend before you head off, this will create a safety net for you in the worst case scenario.
Further, you don’t have to run alone! Running with a friend or a group is a great alternative; not only will there be someone there to help you if you injure yourself, but you’ll have someone with you to offer constant support and motivation.
The important thing to remember here is to put yourself and your safety above all else. Take the steps to eliminate fear or trepidation about running alone, and allow yourself to enjoy a peaceful run in the heart of nature.
When keeping safe in the dark nights or mornings, find the best hi vis and reflective running vests here.
#3 Bring a Map, Compass and Other Safety Equipment
This safety tip is more so directed at individuals who are looking to explore areas that are either unmarked, no routed trail, or are simply visiting a new trail for the very first time without prior research. The key to this safety tip is to always be prepared for the unexpected.
Things go wrong, but in the event of injury or getting lost, it's important to stay calm because there are ways to solve these issues should they ever arise. Many of these risks can be solved by bringing along some simple tools, such as a map, compass and a satellite phone.
Here are sectors of essential items in different categories to better understand what risks they can help avoid:
Communication Devices: Regular phones may lose signal, consider taking a satellite phone or a whistle should ever need to draw attention to yourself.
Navigation Tools: GPS, Compasses and Maps are great tools for navigation, learn how to use each one in the event of becoming lost. Learning a trail from memory is difficult, avoid this risk by bringing navigational tools.
Extra Layers: In the event of somebody getting lost for long periods of time, bring extra layers of clothing such as hats, gloves and scarfs. Further, be prepared for the temperature to drastically drop through the night.
Extra Food and Water: Always bring more than you think you’ll need, even if you don’t get lost or injured per say, you may simply require more food and water whilst out on your run.
Whilst carrying a bunch of safety equipment is tiresome and may require you to bring a small backpack, but you’ll be glad of it in the case of emergencies. Find a list of essentials over at our blog about winter running gear.
#5 When Encountering Wildlife, Stay Calm
When discussing trail running for beginners in the UK, you may not have to be as weary of wildlife compared to other countries in the world. Lots of trails in other parts of the world have creatures such as bears, snakes and mountain lions to contest with.
Whilst we in the UK don’t have animals of such kind, there are still the likes of badgers and foxes that you may come across. Regardless of what kind of wildlife you encounter, do not under any circumstances attempt to approach it if you don’t know the threat level.
Most animals native to the UK trails, such as the badger, will not want to be disturbed; typically scurrying away after encountering a human. However, on the off chance you do encounter a vicious animal, take the above precautions for your own safety.
#6 Stay Focused at All Times
This tip is rather self explanatory, but to prevent any issues like falls - try not to zone out when running, stay focused at all times.
If you’re used to road running or using a treadmill, you may have a tendency to zone out every now and again. Maybe it's the methodical rhythm of your legs running in a straight line on solid ground, or your music is immersive. Whatever the case may be, this is something to steer clear from in trail running.
Terrain can change at any given minute, so it’s essential to be vigilant for any changes that are coming to beyond. Additionally, as we will learn when covering the etiquette section of this trail running beginners guide, you also need to be aware of other people on the trail too.
If you listen to music, try out listening with one earphone instead of two. Using one keeps you focused on the task at hand, and will ultimately help eliminate the chance of any unwanted surprises.
To try and avoid any slips or trips in the unpredictable british weather, get yourself some waterproof trail running shoes.
Trail Running Etiquette
Regarding trail running for beginners, it is important to follow the etiquette set by the community and to be respectful to other enthusiasts. These tips will be a lot less detailed than the others featured on our list, as they need little, to no explanation. For the most part these are likely to be actions taken in usual daily activities like walking.
#1 Do Not Litter
All beginners must adhere to the most simple of requests, do not litter anywhere at any point.
You’ll potentially be running in beautiful scenic areas, so try to adhere to public expectancy and maintain the area’s standards.
Do the right thing and hold on to your litter until you either get home or find a bin, similarly if you see someone elses litter on the ground, do your part to help preserve the environment you’re frequently using and pick it up.
#2 Share Your Space
The next etiquette tip in our trail running beginners guide is all about how you use the trail, and more specifically how much space you’re taking up.
If you’re just starting out your trail running journey, then you may be a little slower than some of the more experienced runners that use the trail. As such, it is important you stay to one side of the trail, allowing for others to pass on by without any commotion.
If you’re interested in every kind of running, you may enjoy our article - mindful running: how to achieve mindfulness.
#3 Remember to Yield for Others
Similarly to this in the point above, for your own safety in some instances it is important to remember to yield and pause running to allow mountain bikers and other runners past.
If you are on a shared path which cyclists use to mountain bike, it is up to you to yield before they do. Afterall, it is much easier for the runner to halt, than a biker to stop pedaling.
Likewise, if you’re travelling uphill and others are coming downhill, you should stay where you are and let these individuals past first.
Whilst it may be inconvenient to stop and start you running, yielding is one of the best tips of advice in our trail running beginners guide, because it ensures your safety and that of others.
#4 Alert Others to Your Presence
As you can imagine if you’re running alone in an environment that is unfamiliar, it's possible to be jump scared by other runners. That is why it is important to alert other runners to your presence whenever possible.
If you’re running behind someone who may not hear you due to headphones for example, make your presence known by simply shouting something along the lines of “on your left” before you approach them.
Everybody should feel safe when running, so all participants are able to keep the trail running community protected by these simple behaviours.
Will I Require a Walking Pole as Part of my Equipment?
The only time a walking pole is required when trail running is for sufferers from bad balance, or if the runner is tackling mountainous terrain which can be quite steep.
Ultimately, a walking pole is there to give you stability when you don’t have any, this is another cause to research your route before you begin your run. If your research gives you any kind of trepidation about your stability during your run, it’s recommended investing in a walking pole, to ensure that your run is as safe as possible.
If you use trekking poles regularly, you can browse through our article, trekking poles, a complete buyers guide.
What Are the Best Trails to Run in the UK?
If you’re looking for a guide into trail running for beginners in the UK, some of the most popular trails in the country, are:
- Pen-y-Ghent, Yorkshire Dales
- Noss Mayo and Newton Ferrers, Devon
- Frensham Common, Surrey Hills
- Coed-y-Brenin, Snowdonia
- Loughrigg Fell, Lake District
All of these trails are perfect for anybody, whether they are a starter, intermediate or advanced. You can count on the fact that you'll have fun while pushing your body to new limits.
What is More Difficult and Damaging: Concrete or Trail Running?
Running on concrete and asphalt can be damaging to our lower joints due it being a high-impact sport. When the leg joints and feet are hitting the concrete during they are feeling the impact of a tough surface area; this is compared to the softer terrain that can be found during trail running, which will protect our joints and tendons by acting as a cushioning effect.
A recently conducted study in 2020 found that running on concrete can damage your achilles tendon more so than when running on softer terrain like dirty, sand or mud. The results found that there was only a slight difference between how the two terrains affected the achilles tendon; however, that slight difference proved that pavement was more damaging.
For beginners, trail running may be harder than concrete running, this is because whilst the joints and tendons are cushioned under a softer surface, such surfaces do not provide the same force needed to push yourself off the ground. As such trail running requires better stability and balance, in order to keep yourself propped up and running forward.
Before You Go!
Hopefully now after reading our trail running for beginners guide, you are ready to hit the trail. Getting fit in new ways is a great way to stay motivated and vary your skill profile; so, progress and proceed onto new tracks and trails around the country with a new hobby.
Running has plenty of mental and physical health benefits, and if you’re a fitness fanatic you’ll be ready to get started - but just before you go.
- Gali Dar, Gordon Waddington, Myriam Stern, Nadav Dotan, Nili Steinberg (2020) Differences Between Long Distance Road Runners and Trail Runners in Achilles Tendon Structure and Jumping and Balance Performance. PubMed
- Ricardo J.S. Costa, Beat Knechtle, Mark Tarnopolsky and Martin D. Hoffman. (2018) Nutrition for Ultramarathon Running: Trail, Track, and Road. Human Kinetics Journal
- Douglas J. Casa, Rebecca L. Stearns, Rebecca M. Lopez, Matthew S. Ganio, Brendon P. McDermott, Susan Walker Yeargin, Linda M. Yamamoto, Stephanie M. Mazerolle, Melissa W. Roti, Lawrence E. Armstrong, and Carl M. Maresh. (2010) Influence of Hydration on Physiological Function and Performance During Trail Running in the Heat. Journal of Athletic Training.
- Yuri Feito, Evanette K. Burrows, Loni Philip Tabb. (2018) A 4-Year Analysis of the Incidence of Injuries Among CrossFit-Trained Participants. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.