Choosing a Running Surface: Should you Run on Grass, or Concrete?


running on grass vs concrete

Running is one of the most effective forms of exercise you can take for making tangible, long-term improvements to your overall health and fitness. Regularly heading out for a jog can improve muscular growth and health, promote bone strength, and boost cardiovascular fitness and lung capacity.

Running is an excellent cardiovascular workout, burning lots of calories and  helping you to maintain a healthy weight. This can reduce your risk of developing weight-related diseases, such as Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes, later in life.

When looking for ways to optimize your performance, there are many factors to consider. What you may not know, however, is how where you choose to run can influence how your workout affects your body.

Whether you run through parks, along beaches, or by roads, the ground underfoot influences where the impact is felt by your body, which can be beneficial in some ways, but harmful in others.

So, should you be running on grass, or concrete? And how can you decide where to run when deciding how best to improve your performance, strength, and stamina?

Why Does Run​ning Surface Matter?

The firmness, evenness, and gradient of the surface you choose to run on affects your running form and performance more than you may think. Softer surfaces, such as grass, sand, and dirt, absorb more impact than harder surfaces, meaning that less force from each foot-strike is absorbed by your legs.

Although harder surfaces, such as concrete and asphalt, absorb less of this force and therefore put more strain on your legs, their consistency and evenness makes falls and sprains less likely, whilst allowing you to run faster.

When deciding where to head for your run, it is important to consider your personal needs and fitness goals, taking into account how each surface affects your body.

How Running Surface Impacts Your Running Form

Each different surface you run on delivers varying stresses to your muscles and joints, and choosing which is most appropriate for your personal aims is important for improving your performance.

  • Grass: Grass is soft and cushioning, meaning that much of the impact from each foot strike is absorbed by the ground, rather than your body. This puts less strain on your legs, particularly your knees and Achilles tendon, which are both susceptible to running injuries. Running on soft surfaces, such as grass, also forces your muscles to work harder, promoting growth and improved strength.
  • Sand/Dirt: Sand and soft dirt are very gentle on your joints, as they minimize the impact on your legs when you run. They also provide the best workout to your muscles, so runners who choose to head to the beach can see the most significant improvement in terms of their leg strength.
  • Concrete: Concrete is often the most convenient surface to run on for urban joggers, but it’s unyielding firmness means it absorbs almost no impact, putting more strain on your body. However, smooth, consistent surfaces are the easiest to run on, so you can run much faster without fear of tripping or spraining an ankle.

Pros and Cons

Each different surface has advantages and disadvantages, and choosing which to run on often comes down to which aspect of your performance you most wish to improve.

Grass

running on grass benefits

Pros: Grass is soft and therefore absorbs much of the force from your run, making it kinder on you legs and joints.

Cons: Hidden roots and holes, and dew-slickened surfaces, can increase the risk of injury from falls and sprains.

Sand

best running surfaces

Pros: Sand makes your legs work harder than any other surface, with scientific evidence suggesting that this surface is the best for making improvements to the size and strength of your leg muscles.

Cons: Running on soft sand increases your risk of injuring your Achilles tendon, whilst running on sloped sand can put uneven stresses on your body.

Concrete

Pros: Concrete is the smoothest, most predictable surface to run on. This allows you to reach higher speeds, and minimizes your chance of injury from falls and sprains.

Cons: The hardness of concrete forces your legs to absorb almost all of the impact from your run, putting greater strain on your joints.

Choosing the Best Surface For Running

It seems that each different surface has its advantages and disadvantages, so how can you decide which is best for you? Should you be running on grass, or concrete?

The answer is, both!

The best way to make consistent improvements to your running performance is to vary your training, ensuring that the workout benefits all areas of your body. Running on concrete can allow you to reach higher speeds, boosting your cardiovascular and lung health, and improving stamina.

Running on grass and sand forces your leg muscles to work harder, increasing their growth and strength. By switching up your running routine, you’ll see significant advancements in every aspect of your health and fitness, from strength to stamina. (Smooth Grass)


Top Tips

  • Know your body: It is important to consider any previous injuries or weakness you may have in your hips, knees, feet, and ankles. If you are prone to knee injuries, it is wise to run only on softer surfaces, such as grass. Those who experience problems with their Achilles tendon should avoid running on sand, as this can increase the risk of injury.
  • Choose asphalt over concrete: Urban dwellers will often have little choice but to run in the streets, which can be tough on the knees over time. However, the impact of running on the road can be reduced by choosing to jog on asphalt over concrete. Although it is still a hard surface, asphalt absorbs more impact than concrete, making it more forgiving on your legs.

By making an informed choice about where you run, you can optimize your running performance to get the best possible health benefits from your workout. Overall, whether you are running on grass or concrete, all runners can expect to benefit from long term improvements to their health, fitness, and happiness. So why not take up running in 2018, and see what it can do for you?

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