What's the Best Running Surface?

Trail runner
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"Is it better to run on the road, sidewalk or trails? Am I more likely to get injured on one surface versus another?"

Although running on a sidewalk may sometimes be a safer choice (to avoid traffic), asphalt is a bit softer and therefore easier on your body than concrete. So, if you're running on a hard surface, opt for asphalt roads, as long as it's a safe road to run on.

Softer surfaces such as grass, sand, or dirt trails or paths are definitely easier on your body than concrete or asphalt, but that doesn't mean there are no risks for common overuse injuries.

The reality is that runners can also get injured on softer terrain, too, because it may not provide the same stability as a harder surface. Your feet will pronate, or roll inward, further, which could increase the strain on your muscles and joints, leading to injury.

Vary Your Surface

Healthy runners should always vary their running surfaces to work on improving their strength, balance, and to help avoid injury. Switch up your routes and do some trail running, some running on asphalt, some track runs, and even some running on sidewalks if you have to. Beach running is a fun way to mix up your running routine.

If you're training for a race, do the majority of the runs on the same type of surface you’ll be running on. If you frequently run on the same route, reverse the direction of it every other run. That will adjust for any slant in the road, so you'll be stressing both sides of your body equally.

If you're just recovering from a running injury and you're worried about a recurrence, your best bet would be to run on a rubberized track, which will offer a level surface as well as good shock absorption. Most high-school tracks are open to the public, so they're a safe, convenient option. Most tracks are 400 meters (about 1/4 mile), so it's easy for you monitor your distance when you're running on it.

Most treadmills are padded, making them another good option if you're just back to running after an injury or you're injury-prone and want to reduce the impact. Treadmills are also the best option if the weather conditions are too extreme for a safe run. You can better simulate outdoor running by setting your treadmill at 1% incline. Again, you don't want to do all your running on treadmill, as you might then have difficulty adjusting when you return to outside running. The bottom line is that varying your running surfaces will help prevent injuries and keep you from getting bored.

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