What type of surface is best for running on to prevent injuries?

Treadmills, tracks, trails, concrete paths, grass? I have often had the question come up from those starting a running program about the type of surface they should run on. There is no one answer fits all for this type of question. Many research studies show no correlation with running surface and injury risk. However, there are some things to think about when determining where you will plan your training.


First and foremost, just as with any part of injury prevention, don’t do too much too soon. I have young children. Despite my love of running outside, in the winter when the days are short, I have to resort to treadmill running to get it in before the kids wake-up (or risk the injury that might come from slipping on a dark, icy sidewalk). This means that when the spring starts to have long enough days for me to head back outside, I have to ease into running on a different surface. I made the mistake before of jumping back into a 15 miler out on the concrete trail when I had spent the winter on a treadmill and ended up injuring myself.


So, what should we do and how? Here are a couple of ideas to prevent overuse injuries:

  1. For the first couple weeks, run on the new surface gradually by running your longer runs where you had been running and your shorter runs on the new surface.
  2. Another option, particularly if you are new to running or returning after an injury, is to vary your terrain. Find courses that utilize a combination of concrete, gravel, dirt, grass, all weathered track, or asphalt. If you don’t have that kind of variety in one run, mix it up so that you run on a different surface different days of the week.


What do you need to consider when you are returning to running after an injury?

  1. In general, starting off on softer surfaces may allow you to tolerate running better at the beginning as long as it is short amounts of time to start. Grass or soft dirt are your softest choices, however, they can aggravate instability injuries such as ankle or knee sprains since the surface is more inconsistent.
  2. How you progress is more important than where you progress. Again, too much of any surface too soon will lead to injury! Find a gradual program and stick to it!


How about you? Where do you like to run, what makes you feel your best?

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