Women and trail running – your biomechanics matter

It sucks that there are actual gendered biomechanics differences which directly impact your running performance, efficiency, and potential injury risks out on the trails… from the time of your 28-day cycle that you train, to your anatomy.

While this can’t entirely be helped, companies are blurring the lines to help trail runners do what we love doing best regardless of gender. And that is running in the dirt.

Enough of the jibber-jabber, let’s get to the facts:

Lower Extremity Biomechanical differences male to female

  • Anatomy: Females often exhibit wider hips, resulting in a greater Q angle (the angle between the quadriceps and patellar tendon), influencing knee alignment and joint mechanics. This can contribute to variations in knee flexion, extension, and overall gait patterns on trails.
  • Stride Length: On average, men tend to have longer strides than women due to differences in leg length and stride mechanics.
  • Knee Valgus: Women often display greater knee valgus (inward movement of the knee) due to wider hips, potentially affecting lower limb alignment during running.
  • Foot Size and Shape: Men generally have larger and wider feet compared to women, influencing shoe size and potential impact on shoe selection for trail running.
  • Arch Height: Women tend to have higher arches than men, potentially affecting shock absorption and pronation tendencies during trail running.
  • Pronation and Foot Mechanics: Pronation tendencies, the natural inward rolling of the foot, differ between genders. Women often have increased pronation compared to men due to differences in arch height and foot structure. This can impact stability and load distribution on uneven trail surfaces, affecting how male and female runners negotiate terrain variations.
  • Strength and Muscle Activation: Gender differences in muscle activation patterns and relative strength could affect trail running biomechanics. Men generally exhibit greater absolute strength, particularly in the upper body, while women might display unique patterns of muscle recruitment and relative strength in the lower extremities. These disparities might influence power generation and shock absorption during trail running.
  • Trail-Specific Adaptations: Gender-specific adaptations in response to trail running demands may exist. While both genders adapt biomechanically to trail terrains, differences in how males and females respond to the challenges of off-road running might impact energy conservation, efficiency, and overall performance. It’s noted that Women adopt different strategies for negotiating obstacles or uneven terrain, potentially affecting stride length, cadence, and foot strike patterns. These differences could influence energy expenditure and efficiency on trails.
  • Pacing Variations: Some studies suggest that women may be better at pacing themselves in longer races, potentially displaying more consistent pacing strategies compared to men.

Gender physiology and trail running injuries.

  • Menstrual Cycle Effects: Women’s running biomechanics might vary during different phases of the menstrual cycle due to hormonal fluctuations, potentially affecting factors like muscle strength, ligament laxity, and injury risks.
  • Injury Susceptibility: Women often have a higher predisposition to certain injuries due to biomechanical factors like wider hips, which could affect pelvic stability and lead to an increased risk of hip or knee-related issues on the trails.
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries: Women are known to have a higher incidence of ACL injuries due to biomechanical factors like increased knee valgus and hormonal influences.
  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: Women might be more prone to conditions like patellofemoral pain syndrome due to differences in knee alignment and muscular strength around the knee.

Trail running kit differences male to female.

  • Trail-Specific Gear and Shoe Considerations: Tailoring gear and shoes to accommodate biomechanical differences is crucial. Women-specific trail shoes often consider foot width, arch support, and cushioning differences, potentially providing a more suitable fit and support for female runners.

Five Men’s Trail running shoes that accommodate women’s feet too

Several reputable brands offer men’s trail running shoes that can accommodate women’s needs as well when it comes to running off-road which is especially important when it comes to avoiding injuries.

However just wearing men’s shoes won’t help you perform better on the trails, seek expert advice when selecting your next pair of running shoes for the upcoming race, but these five brands help blur the line of binary footwear:

Salomon
Salomon trail running shoes often cater to a variety of foot shapes and offer models known for their durability, traction, and stability. Some women find that certain Salomon men’s shoes, like the Speedcross or Sense series, fit their feet comfortably for trail running.

Brooks
While primarily known for their road running shoes, Brooks also produces excellent trail running shoes. Some women find that specific models like the Brooks Cascadia in men’s sizes provide adequate support and traction for trail runs.

Altra
Altra’s trail running shoes are known for their wide-toe-box, which can benefit women with wider feet or those who prefer more toe splay. Certain Altra men’s trail shoes, such as the Lone Peak series, are popular among women for their comfort and spacious design.

Hoka
Hoka One One offers cushioned trail running shoes that some women find suitable in men’s sizes. The brand’s models like the Speedgoat or Challenger ATR series provide cushioning and stability ideal for various trail terrains.

La Sportiva
La Sportiva trail shoes are known for their technical designs, offering excellent grip and performance on rugged trails. Some women find that specific models like the La Sportiva Bushido II in men’s sizes provide a snug yet comfortable fit for their feet.


When considering men’s trail running shoes for women, it’s essential to try them on and ensure a proper fit.

Women should consider sizing down by about 1.5 sizes from their women’s shoe size to find the equivalent men’s size.

Additionally, seeking advice from shoe experts or trying on different models in-store can help in finding the most suitable option.


If you want to go more in detail about these topics, here are some of the references we studied:
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11332-018-0521-7
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1012690215591793
https://sportsmedicine-open.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40798-018-0124-5
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/10.1080/14763141.2018.1548641
https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-14-789?report=reader

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