Whether you’re training for a marathon or just looking to get back into shape, countless people run on a fairly consistent basis. Some runners go for a jog around the neighborhood, some go to the local track, and some may use a treadmill at a fitness center. But how do you know which one is the best surface to run on? Each surface is unique, with its own benefits and disadvantages.
Running on Concrete
Concrete or asphalt may be the most convenient running surface as it’s easily available right outside your front door. In addition, it provides a relatively flat surface with a low risk for twisting your ankle on a stray root or another obstacle. However, running on concrete causes a great deal of stress to the hips, knees, ankles, and shins, increasing your risk of developing injuries like shin splints and stress fractures. In general, this surface should be avoided by people who have weak joints or are prone to injury.
If you do choose to run on concrete, make sure that you wear a pair of supportive and well-cushioned shoes designed to absorb shock. You should also try to mix up your running surface as much as you can.
Running on a Track
Running on a synthetic track is one of the best terrains for a beginner runner because it’s a flat surface, and you know what’s ahead of you, allowing you to focus on proper running form without worrying about rolling an ankle. A track is also more forgiving than concrete, meaning that it’s easier on your various joints.
One drawback of running on a track is that consistently running on the counterclockwise curve of an oval track can lead to a muscle imbalance. To counter this uneven force on your legs, try running in the opposite direction or try out another surface when you feel confident about your form.
Running on Grass
Similar to the track, grass can be more accommodating on your joints than concrete. In addition, grass tends to be more available than other surfaces, but you should make sure that you’re paying attention to your surroundings as there may be rocks, roots, or other stray items in your path.
Running on Dirt Trails
Soft dirt trails through a forest are an excellent surface for joint-friendly running and are a great change of scenery to further motivate you. This type of terrain may be more beneficial for high-level athletes who want to build endurance and strength, as there may be varying elevations, as opposed to a flat landscape. Uneven surfaces and hills allow the hamstrings, quads, calves, and ankles to be more challenged than they would be running on a flat surface.
Running on Sand
If you are looking for an even more challenging terrain than a hilly dirt trail, sand may be the perfect running surface for you. Due to the unstable surface and increased resistance, running on sand greatly enhances your strength and stamina. An additional benefit of running on sand is that it alleviates the degree of impact on your joints.
However, if you have had past instability issues in your lower joints, such as previous ankle sprains or an ACL injury, you may need to be cautious on sand. Since sand is soft and gives way very easily, it can provide less stability to these regions while also making your workouts significantly more difficult.
Running on a Treadmill
Running on a treadmill is another relatively low-impact way that you can relieve pressure on your joints. Treadmills can be beneficial in that you can control the speed and elevation at which you are running at all times.
When running on a treadmill, it’s important to pay attention to your stride. One common mistake is taking short, choppy strides that don’t align with your natural gait. You can combat this issue by slowing your pace until you fall into proper form. Another frequently seen mistake is overstriding, which is when your foot lands considerably ahead of your body’s center of gravity. To prevent overstriding, remember to land each footfall directly underneath your body, not before or behind it.
Running has extensive benefits, improving your cardiovascular health and lowering your risk for several conditions. No matter what surface you choose to run on, don’t forget to adequately stretch before and after your workout to prevent injury and maximize its benefits.
Which Surface is Right For Me?
If you are still uncertain about which surface is right for you, contact Comprehensive Medical Care. At Comprehensive Medical Care, we offer a team of specialized sports physicians, therapists, and athletic trainers to provide customized and advanced treatment plans. If you’re interested in getting into running for the first time, or you have recently experienced an injury while running, schedule a free consultation with us today to see what we can do for you.