What surface is best for running?

The truth is that the jury’s still out on whether running on a softer surface has less impact on joints and muscles. Some research suggests it might not actually matter, and the forces that impact your lower body on various surfaces such as asphalt, concrete, and grass don’t increase knee pain or injury risk. One explanation is that your body automatically adapts to the surface you’re running on. That means you’ll instinctively strike harder on softer surfaces, and strike softer on harder surfaces. On the other hand, some evidence suggests that running on softer surfaces (such as grass) reduces stress on your muscles and joints.

“But it feels better when I run on soft surfaces,” you might say. That difference in feeling is likely due to the different kinds of muscles, or stabilizers, you use when running on softer surfaces, which creates a sensation of less impact, although the overall impact on your body is the same.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t run on soft surfaces if it makes you feel better. Feeling better on a run goes a long way. However, softer surfaces such as trails, grass, or sand tend to be more uneven, which can pose a greater risk of strains and sprains.

When it comes to injury prevention and recovery, it’s also important to consider other factors such as wearing the right running shoes. And be sure to increase your running intensity and volume gradually to help avoid injury too. 

References

Fu, W. (2013). Influence of sports surface on characteristics of plantar pressure in running. Information Technology Journal, 12(24), 8551–8554. doi:10.3923/itj.2013.8551.8554

Hong, Y., Wang, L., Li, J. X., & Zhou, J. H. (2012). Comparison of plantar loads during treadmill and overground running. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 15(6), 554–560. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2012.01.004

Taunton, J. E. (2003). A prospective study of running injuries: the Vancouver Sun Run "In Training" clinics. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 37(3), 239–244. doi:10.1136/bjsm.37.3.239

Tessutti, V., Ribeiro, A. P., Trombini-Souza, F., & Sacco, I. C. N. (2012). Attenuation of foot pressure during running on four different surfaces: asphalt, concrete, rubber, and natural grass. Journal of Sports Sciences, 30(14), 1545–1550. doi:10.1080/02640414.2012.713975

Tillman, M. D., Fiolkowski, P., Bauer, J. A., & Reisinger, K. D. (2002). In-shoe plantar measurements during running on different surfaces: Changes in temporal and kinetic parameters. Sports Engineering, 5(3), 121–128. doi:10.1046/j.1460-2687.2002.00101.x