After running, descending, long miles on a steep trail I'm finding that the worst pain/soreness in my legs are due to loose earth like gravel. Its hard to tell which muscles are hurting and Ive only experienced the pain two times, and ran this type of long run on steep trails only twice. Im a flatlander... I feel it the most after the run while walking on loose gravel, but also while running I feel it enough to change the way I descend down a trail which slows me down.

More specifically, any side-wards motion due to slips or bumping against roots. This has only happened twice but the pain was definitely below the knee and maybe mostly on the front outer side of leg.

Instead of trying to say what muscles are hurting me can someone tell me what muscles are responsible for stabilizing your feet and some suggestion for strengthen them in general or for running.

What muscles are these and how do you strengthen them?

  • As it stands, this question is very broad, as it encompasses all the muscles of the lower body. If you could narrow it down, and describe exactly where the pain originates and what seems to exacerbate it the most (As far as motion), then the question can be nominated for reopening.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 17:17
  • @JohnP I tried to make it more specific. If it is necessary to cut out the situation or reason for asking the question to make it more specific then I can. Id like feedback on this specific situation but an open question works better than a closed one.
    – Jason
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 23:33

1 Answer 1


I am a barefoot/minimalist runner with lots of experience on hilly trails with the terrain your describe.

In addition to more bones than any other part of your body, your feet have multiple muscles such as the anterior tibial, which enables the foot to move upward; the posterior tibial, which supports the arch; the peroneal tibial, which controls movement on the outside of the ankle; and the extensors. The best way to strengthen them is to gradually increase exposure to type of loose gravel surfaces you mention. The more minimalist your shoe the more you will feel the ground which is either a positive or negative depending on your goals.

Having said that, based on my experience I actually would question the loose gravel being the primary cause of the pain and soreness in your legs.

For people used to running on flat surfaces (of maybe with treadmills on a slight incline) the type of running that will cause the most soreness is downhill running. The fact that you mentioned a need to change running form downhill strengthens my theory.

If I am right then focus on your calf muscles (and other muscle groups worked while running downhill).

If you want an isolation exercise try calf raises, however I would recommend squats and deadlifts because they will work more muscle groups that will help you as a runner (including your core).

If you prefer running outside over the gym, don't mind looking funny and don't frequently have access to hilly trails, trying running backwards (I am not joking). Running backwards is great for strengthening your calves, quads and shins (and will help you improve balance).

  • Thanks, I'll try working on my calves then. They have been more sore than other muscles. Will running on dry/wet sand with or without shoes help in place of running backwards? How about running a few miles without letting my heel touch the ground? Thanks
    – Jason
    Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 0:42
  • @Jason Yes running on sand is a great exercise to help strengthen those muscles. Running a few miles on sand is much harder than running a few miles on a flat hard surface so moderation is key. Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 1:28
  • @Jason My goal was not to sell you on minimalist/barefoot running but if you want to "run a few miles without lettering your heel touch the ground" wearing minimalist shoes (0mm heel to toe drop or close to it) may help. Again use moderation if your are used to large heel to toe drops or lots of cushioning or you may be at increased risk of stress fractures in your feet or calf injuries, etc. Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 1:33
  • Well I hope you recover well so you can forget about that injury.
    – Jason
    Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 1:44
  • 1
    Minimalist here too. Great answer. Only maybe you shouldn't need to over train lower legs since it's a group of relatively small muscles. Chirunning recommends simply to lift your ankles and land with full foot. This I believe is done when running backwards. On downhill you can try putting some weight on heals slightly first without letting your feet fall ahead of you. Also focus on backward motion of legs.
    – nilon
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 13:28

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