While running and jogging are a great form of exercise, some surfaces are better to run on that others. Which surfaces are most available generally depends on where you live, and may include asphalt and concrete, sand, grass, dirt and synthetic track. Though it’s best to train on a variety of surfaces to avoid getting the body used to only one surface, it’s important to remember that some result in excess stress on the joints and muscles. So what are the pros and cons of each surface?
Concrete and Asphalt Are Hard. Real Hard.
Perhaps the surface most widely available (unless you live on a farm in the middle of… somewhere), concrete and asphalt are regarded as putting the most stress on the body when it comes to running. Mainly made up of cement, concrete is by far the hardest surface you will ever run on. As you hit this surface over and over again, you are setting yourself up for a myriad of problems, including lower back pain, ankle strain and knee issues. If you have problems with these areas already, you’ll want to avoid running on concrete and asphalt. Patellofemoral syndrome and medial tibial stress syndrome, or runner’s knee and shin splints, are the most common issues associated with running on these surfaces.
If you love running and don’t have any other surface options, be sure to wear cushioned sneakers that provide as much support as possible. Should you be able to choose between concrete and asphalt, go for the latter, as concrete is about 10 times harder. Note that asphalt tends to get crazy-hot fast, however.
Grass Is Soft–Just Don’t Trip Over A Rabbit Hole.
While grass is certainly a softer surface on which to run, its uneven nature can result in injury if you aren’t careful. Soft, muddy grass is slippery and prone to holes, while sticks, rocks, twigs and roots may also cause you to trip and fall. Still, grass is definitely a better option than concrete or asphalt, so look for close-cropped grasses surfaces to run and jog on, such as golf courses or anywhere else where turf is well-maintained.
Ah, there’s nothing quite like running on the beach. However, it’s important to remember that uneven surfaces abound in both wet and dry sand. Go for short runs on the beach to avoid twisting ankles and stressing muscles. Soft sand is a great calf workout, while wetter sand by the water’s edge provides a firmer surface. Because this surface is also sloped, it can still stress muscles and tendons. Sand’s resistance means you won’t have to run for a long time, as even a 20-minute run burns a lot of calories.
Dirt: Another Option For Communing With Nature
Like grass, dirt poses issues thanks to unevenness, rocks, twigs, and so on. Dirt trails do equal varied terrain, however, which helps joint stabilization and provides an effective workout for joints, muscles and ligaments. As with grass and sand, dirt trails offer a lovely environment for running, though it’s best to run with a buddy as many trails are secluded.
Synthetic: Easily The Most Boring
Synthetic running surfaces are essentially the happy medium between concrete and grass/sand/dirt, as they are forgiving yet even. Running on a synthetic track means dealing with two long curves, which stresses the ankles, hips and knees. If you have IT band and calf issues, you should skip running on synthetic tracks or use the straightways only as the curves will stress bands and shorten calf muscles. Slow down around curves if you want to use synthetic tracks for training, though note they usually do not provide scenery of other running surface options.
If you love to run or are thinking about taking up running or jogging to get in better shape, try to run on a variety of surfaces to avoid over-stressing the body. Happy trails!