Asphalt, grass, trails, treadmills or track—runners have a variety of options when it comes to running surfaces, but is one really better than the other? The truth is, variety is much more important than choosing one “best” surface. Varying hardness, level of unevenness and incline all can help with speed, strength and efficiency, as well as help work different muscles in the leg lowering the chance of injury.
Roads—while readily available—put a lot of strain on your knees, shins, and feet. Hard surfaces force our bodies into repetitive movements, putting strain on the same joints and muscles over and over increasing the chance for overuse injuries. However running on hard surfaces is important for practicing racing rhythm and working on speed. Softer surfaces like grass and trails are easier on the joints and help develop stabilizer muscles in the leg. Because more muscles are engaged while running on uneven surfaces the chance of overuse injury is decreased. On the other hand, soft surfaces do have their drawbacks. The chances of rolling an ankle or other injuries related to unpredictable terrain are much higher.
There is no “right” or “best” option for running surfaces. Just like your diet, variety and balance is key. So next time you head out for your daily run try switching things up, your muscles and joints will greatly appreciate it.
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