What is the best running surface?

different running surfaces

Where would I be without runners?

different running surfaces

If running wasn’t such a popular activity, my orthopaedic office would be quiet and I wouldn’t get to hear who is training for which marathon! Runners of all types, sprinters, long distance runners, marathoners and triathletes need to focus on their running surfaces every time in order to stay at the top of their game.

With the injuries that are presented to me, iliotibial band friction syndrome, stress fractures, shin splints and others, I frequently have conversations about footwear, strength and conditioning, stretching, and running surfaces.

READ MORE: How to Find the Right Running Shoe

It is key to be aware of what each running surface can provide. Treadmills may appear cushioned and trails can seem too challenging—but here is the low-down: overall, changing surfaces is great as it trains the body to respond to different sensations. Here is a breakdown of the pros and cons of running surfaces:

Grass. Grass is the overall best surface, whether you are running on golf courses, through parks or up and down a football field. The dirt underneath is cushiony for your legs and due to the softer surface your muscles work harder to propel you forward.

Trails. Woodland trails not only benefit your eyes with their beautiful scenery, but also give your legs softer landings while you bound to the next step. Trails will also keep your ankle muscles firing by throwing in some uneven surfaces. Be careful as you can roll your ankle if you are not paying attention to the trail terrain.

Synthetic Track. The track is the perfect surface for returning from injury and needing a predictable, reliable surface. The track also provides cushioning for your body. One tip would be to change directions if you are running longer distances on the track. If not, one leg can develop iliotibial band friction syndrome or you can start to notice tightness in your calf muscles.

Treadmill. Everyone in my neck of the woods, New England, has to hop on one of these at some point as our fun running trail is covered in snow during the colder months. The good thing is the newer treadmills have started increasing the belt’s cushioned surface. The predictability of the treadmill; however, will limit your preparedness for a race on asphalt or pavement due to the lack of uneven surfaces.

Asphalt and Concrete Sidewalks. Asphalt is slightly better than concrete sidewalks, but both are stiff and increase the force seen through your legs and joints. The advantage is that they are predictable surface and would limit the potential for twisting your ankle.

Always be aware of the benefits and challenges of your running surface. If you are training for a race, it is best to change up your surfaces early in your training so that your feet, ankles and knees can respond to the variation in surface.

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Published by karenmsutton

HSS Orthopaedic surgeon in sports medicine | Mother of 4 amazing children | Team physician for USA Women's Lacrosse | ACL injury expert

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