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What's the Best Running Surface?

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Updated January 06, 2014

Trail running

Kevin Arnold/Getty Images

Question: What's the Best Running Surface?
Is it better to run on the road, sidewalk or trails?
Answer: Some runners mistakenly assume that running on a softer surface such as grass, sand or dirt is easier on your body than concrete or asphalt and will therefore prevent common overuse injuries. The reality is that runners can also get injured on softer terrain, too, because it may not provide the same stability as a harder surface. Your feet will pronate, or roll inward, further, which could increase the strain on your muscles and joints, leading to injury.

Healthy runners should always vary their running surfaces to work on improving their strength, balance, and to help avoid injury. Switch up your routes and do some trail running, some running on asphalt, some track runs, and even some running on sidewalks if you have to. If you're training for a race, do the majority of the runs on the same type of surface you’ll be running on. If you frequently run the same route, reverse the direction of it every other run. That will adjust for any slant in the road, so you'll be stressing both sides of your body equally.

If you're just recovering from a running injury and you're worried about a recurrence, your best bet would be to run on a rubberized track, which will offer a level surface as well as good shock absorption.

Most treadmills are padded, making them another good option if you're just back to running after an injury or you're injury-prone and want to reduce the impact. You can better simulate outdoor running by setting your treadmill at 1% incline.

Also see:
Rules for Running on a Track
Tips for Beach Running
How to Avoid Falls When Running
Can I Wear Regular Running Shoes When Running on Trails?
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