Many runner’s think softer surfaces are less likely to cause injury. Actually, multiple factors contribute to running injuries. The top three safest surfaces to run on are synthetic rubber tracks, followed by flat dirt trails and treadmills. Sand, asphalt, and concrete are all higher risk surfaces that can lead to injury. Since running can be stressful on your body due to the high impact through your joints it’s important to select a surface to run on that is most suitable for your body and running style. In this blog we will explain why different surfaces are better for various runners and how they can impact running longevity.
Runners are vastly different, from body type to running style each runner has specific considerations to maintain a healthy body. For example, one running style, heel striking, will need a softer surface to run on, such as a synthetic rubber track, dirt trail, or even a sand beach. Additionally, softer surfaces will be important to consider for athletes suffering from stress fractures, bone bruises, runner’s knee, or shin splints as these surfaces will lessen the impact to their body and reduce the chance of injuries.
Conversely, forefoot runners can run on asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks with less chance of injury than a heel striker. This is because forefoot strikers have less impact going through their feet with their running style and therefore can run on harder surfaces. However, forefoot runners are more prone to joint instability and must consider muscle strengthening and conditioning. For example, a runner with weak ankles who often suffers from ankle sprains will not want to run on trails with rocks and tree roots since it would increase the likelihood of an injury. Those runners prone to soft tissue injuries such as muscle strains or ligament sprains should consider selecting a running surface such as a treadmill, synthetic rubber track, or even the sidewalk as they will provide more stability while running. All of these factors are important when it comes to running and choosing the best surface to run on. Here’s how to implement them into your weekly running routine.
For the heel strike runner it is ideal to mix up your running surface with hard and soft surfaces so they each make up 50% of your total running each week. For example, run ½ of your weekly runs on a treadmill with the other ½ being on dirt trails. The rationale behind this is if you change your running surface weekly it allows different muscles to build strength. If you need any assistance in selecting the right running surface for you please contact the RUNATOMY team and we would be happy to discuss your best options.
Justin Jellin, DPT, ART
Program Director RUNATOMY