Anybody who runs, knows that it is a high-impact sport and can take a toll on one’s body. This could mean achy joints, irritated tendons, shin splits, among other running-related injuries. Apart from choosing various methods to try to lessen the pain, one sure-shot way for many runners is choosing the right surface.

For many runners, this means choosing a soft surface. But while many 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, here are the pros and cons of running on these surfaces:

Grass

Make sure you keep aware of both the ground directly in front of you as well as the ground ahead

Pros: Grass is soft and and requires a low impact, so this may be a good choice for people who have impact-related running injuries. It’s usually rated as one of the best surfaces for running.
Cons: if you live in the city, then a public park is your best option for a lawn. This can get a little stressful to run if you have to dodge hidden holes, rocks, twigs, pedestrians and dogs.
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

Dirt has just enough hardness and leeway to make for a prime running surface

Pros: After 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 have an ankle injury.
Don’t forget: Like grass, dirt trails can be uneven, so pay close attention to where you’re stepping.

Sand

Red sand and miles of open space are the dominant features of the Australian Outback Marathon (Image: Pryorpage)
Since sand is soft, you can run on this surface without risking impact injuries

Pros: When it’s warm out, nothing beats a run on the beach. Running on sand is one of the most relaxing and scenic way to exercise. It offers a great way to work out little used muscles and burn more calories than running on less-strenuous surfaces. And since sand is soft, you can run on this surface without risking impact injuries.
Cons: Again, this is a big no-no for runners with weak ankles, as running on an unstable surface like sand can lead to sprains and other accident related injuries.
Don’t forget: If you’ve never run before, then don’t start running on sad as your first choice. Try starting on the wet sand first for a sturdier running surface.

Treadmill

A treadmill lends itself to various routines and drills
Always run on an incline or do intervals to get the most out of your indoor running workout

Pros: Treadmills are the perfect running surface if you are looking at an easy and 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: Why most people fall out of love with running on treadmill is because it can get monotonous. If this is the surface you are most comfortable with, then here’s a 30-day treadmill workout that you have to try to spice things up!
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. Don’t rely solely on just the treadmill if you are training for a marathon as you’ll need to be familiar with the adversities of road running.

Track

Keep track runs short and try easing up as you round the corners

Pros: The spongy surface of a synthetic track strikes the right balance between soft and sturdy.
Cons: Apart from boredom there’s nothing more you can complain about. However people with calf sprains and IT band problems should watch out as circling around the track can shorten calf muscles and stress your IT band.
Don’t forget: If you do have these problems, keep track runs short, and try easing up as you round the corners.

Asphalt

Running on the road can become taxing as you will have to endure several obstacles and dangers

Pros: Since most races are run on the street, if you are training for a race you should get off the treadmill, so you will be more in tune with the feel of street running. Running on asphalt can be a boon to runners who experience Achilles tendonitis, as the sturdy surface keeps your Achilles tendon in a less-tensed position.
Cons: Since roads are a hub of activity, running can be a task here as you will have to endure several obstacles and dangers, from potholes to cars, which can make your running more unsafe.
Don’t forget: There are some protocols you must follow when running on the road. Remember to always wear bright clothes and make sure you turn your music down low if you wear headphones so you are aware of what’s going on around you.

Concrete

The right footwear can make any running experience worthwhile; especially running on concrete

Pros: Running on the sidewalk can be the most convenient if you live in a city, and it also may be the safest option if you don’t want to risk it on the road.
Cons: Concrete sidewalks are one of the hardest surfaces you can run on and hence most running experts recommend you try to limit your time on the sidewalk as this will cause more stress on your joints and muscles. But other studies have shown that there is no difference in the amount of stress on your body when you run on the sidewalk versus running on the road.
Don’t forget: The right footwear can make any running experience worthwhile; especially running on concrete. Wear shoes with adequate cushioning if you find that running on concrete leads to joint pain.

There is no perfect surface for runners. All of the work on the body differently. Depending on your body and your history of injuries, you should vary which surface you run on so you can work and strengthen different muscles and keep your body from getting used to just one surface. This will not only keep injuries at bay but will also make you a more experienced runner. If you haven’t varied your running surfaces in a while, start slowly when you switch it up so you don’t overexert yourself.

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