Running has a wide range of benefits; there’s no doubt about that. But one thing can make or break those benefits. What is it? Well, it’s the surface that you choose to run on.
You’ll have the best experience running outdoors when you’re on grass, artificial turf, or on a synthetic track surface. Indoors, though, running on a treadmill promises you an excellent run with minimal impact on your joints. However, the worst surfaces to run on are concrete, asphalt, snow, sand, and on technical trails. Running on these surfaces comes with a high risk of strain and injury.
In this guide, we’ll dive deeper into each of the best and worst surfaces for you to run on. That way, you’ll know which ones to choose to enjoy a great run while minimizing the injury risk to your muscles, joints, and more.
Most people would readily assume that running on a soft surface (e.g. grass) is much better than running on a hard one (e.g. concrete). However, that’s not necessarily true.
The reality is that each type of surface has its benefits and drawbacks, and they quite often go against people’s assumptions.
For example, running on grass certainly helps you avoid injury to your joints. But with grassy areas, it’s often hard to see the terrain clearly, especially when you’re running at high speed.
Limited visibility means you face a higher risk of tripping on something and falling over or twisting your ankle if you land on an uneven spot.
Another example is concrete. Yes, you’ll be able to see your path clearly and avoid tripping on dangers. However, the surface is hard and leads to more impact on your joints.
The point here is this: there are many different factors to consider when choosing the best running surfaces for you to use.
Don’t worry, though, as we’re here to help. We’ll show you our picks for the best and worst surfaces to run on in the following sections.
Our four picks for the best type of surfaces to run on are grass, artificial turf, treadmills, and track surfaces. Here’s why:
In the previous section, we saw how grass also poses a risk of injury. Still, the benefits of running on a grassy surface outweigh the risks. That’s why it’s one of the best types of surfaces to run on.
The reason grass is such an excellent running surface is that it offers a good balance of traits. Firstly, the grass is relatively soft, which means less impact on your feet as you run. Not only is that good for your muscles, but the joints and bones in your feet and legs will also handle the impact better, too.
At the same time, grassy surfaces aren’t too soft. The surface remains firm enough to challenge the muscles in your lower body each time you propel yourself forward.
Artificial turf shares many similar traits as natural grass. The main difference is that it’s a more rigid surface because it’s layered onto a hard base like concrete.
However, it still makes for an excellent running surface. Unlike grass, artificial turf is perfectly flat. That means your feet and legs will experience a consistent level of impact throughout your entire run.
The surface of a treadmill is engineered specifically for runners. You’ll find that it’s firm enough to challenge your muscles and give you a decent workout. But at the same time, treadmills also have padding and shock absorbers to minimize your risk of injury.
Better yet, treadmills offer you more control. For example, you can adjust the incline to a precise degree. Not only does that allow you to adjust the intensity of your run in ways that you can’t do elsewhere, but it also allows you to target specific muscles in your legs as you run.
Last but not least, another excellent surface to run on is a track surface. Like treadmills, these are designed specifically with runners in mind. The materials used are springy, flat, and smooth, everything you need to enjoy a productive run with minimal risk of injury or strain.
Related: Your running form can help or exacerbate nagging issues when running on different surfaces. Take a check-up on your running form!
Now, let’s take a look at some of the most unforgiving surfaces that you could run on.
It doesn’t take much to understand why running on concrete is a bad idea: it’s the most high-impact surface that you could choose.
Running on concrete for too long will strain your muscles and hurt your joints even for seasoned runners. In the long-term, this surface could cause you damage that prevents you from running at all.
Some runners assume that asphalt is better than concrete because the material is designed to absorb some of the impacts. But that’s not entirely accurate.
Yes, asphalt will reduce the impact on a car or heavy vehicle. But for your feet and legs, running on asphalt is still very high impact.
Despite being two different types of surfaces, snow and sand have similar traits, many of which are not suitable for runners. Above all, these surfaces are far too soft for running, and they shift each time your foot lands on them.
Because of that, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments will experience a much higher degree of stress as you try to run. In particular, the Achilles tendon is known to suffer strains when running on excessively soft surfaces.
Yes, believe it or not, we include technical trails on this list as one of the worst surfaces to run on.
Trails certainly make for a low-impact running surface. So, that’s good news for many parts of your legs.
However, the uneven surfaces pose a high risk against your lower joints, especially your ankle. Sprains and twists are a reality when you’re navigating a technical trail at running speed. So, perhaps this surface is best left for walkers and hikers instead.
Even though it’s clear that some surfaces are better than others for running, people often have limited options. So, if you only have access to ‘bad’ running surfaces, what can you do to reduce the impact and stress on your body?
Well, the part that makes the most difference is the quality of your running shoes. No matter what surface you run on, always use shoes that:
So, strap on an excellent pair of running shoes! They’ll help you make the most of your run, no matter what type of surface you have access to!
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