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Trail or Sidewalk? The Pros and Cons of Running on Different Surfaces

Written on January 17, 2012 at 7:00 am , by

Switch up your route to ease your knees! (Photo courtesy of Laura Doss)

Body-wise, running can be a high-impact sport, which can mean achy joints, irritated tendons, and other running-related injuries. Many runners use various methods to try to lessen the impact of constantly striking the ground.

For many runners, that means choosing a soft surface. But while you may think that running on soft surfaces may help lower the strain on your body, this may not always be the case. An article from The New York Times says that runners who preferred softer surfaces don’t necessarily have fewer injuries than those who ran on asphalt or concrete (and may have more, since softer surfaces can lead to accident-related injuries). In fact, some studies have shown that our bodies actually adapt to different surfaces no matter how hard they are, so the type of surface that we run on may not matter as much.

While the best running surface may be a personal preference, there are still benefits and drawbacks to each type. Whether you love to run on the street or on trails, check out the pros and cons of running on these surfaces.

Grass
Pros: Grass is soft and low impact, so it may be a better choice for people who have impact-related running injuries. It’s usually rated as one of the best surfaces for running.
Cons: A run in the park can be a little stressful! Besides hidden holes, rocks, and twigs, you also have to watch out for other obstacles, like pedestrians, dogs, and other distractions.
Don’t forget: Not paying attention when running on grass commonly leads to injuries like a twisted ankle, so make sure you keep aware of both the ground directly in front of you as well as the ground ahead.

Dirt
Pros: Behind grass, dirt roads are also often rated as one of the best surfaces to run on. Dirt has just enough hardness and leeway to make for a prime running surface, especially if you suffer from shin splints, IT band syndrome, or other impact-related injuries.
Cons: The unevenness of dirt trails can be bad for your ankles, so avoid dirt roads if you’ve had an ankle injury.
Don’t forget: Like grass, dirt trails can be uneven, so pay close attention to where you’re stepping.

Sand
Pros: When it’s warm out, nothing beats a run on the beach. Besides being one of the most relaxing and scenic ways to exercise, running on sand offers a great way to work out little-used muscles as well as burn more calories than running on less-strenuous surfaces. Plus, since sand is soft, you can run on the surface without risking impact injuries.
Cons: Unstable soft surfaces like sand can wreak havoc on weak ankles and can lead to sprains and other accident-related injuries.
Don’t forget: Don’t start running on sand if you’ve never done it before. Try starting on the wet sand first for a sturdier running surface.

Treadmill
Pros: Even and relatively soft treadmills are a great way to run if you suffer from injuries or need a less-stressful running experience. Also, since the treadmill helps pull you a little as you run, you may find that it’s easier to run longer distances.
Cons: Running on a treadmill can get tedious, and there’s no beautiful scenery to distract you.
Don’t forget: Always run on an incline or do intervals to get the most out of your indoor running workout and to work more muscles. Also, don’t rely solely on the treadmill if you are training for a race — you’ll need to be familiar with the irregularities of road running beforehand!

Keep reading for more on how different surfaces affect your running.

 

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