How Different Running Terrains Affect Your Workout

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Running consistently can be challenging for even the most disciplined among us. Regardless of whether you’ve found recent success with your running routine or just can’t seem to get into a groove, it’s a good idea to mix in a little variety, especially when it comes to the terrain. The surface you run on can make a big difference in both the running experience and the physical exertion itself. So, which one is best for you? The real answer is to mix it up, but here’s a guide to the pros and cons of each terrain.

Pavement

For starters, asphalt is better than concrete. It’s a much softer surface and consequently absorbs the impact of your body weight better than does concrete, thus reducing stress on both bones and joints. It shouldn’t be hard for you to find and ordinarily it’s a flat, smooth surface. If you’re worried about aggravating or rolling an ankle, asphalt is probably your safest bet.

Dirt/Trails

As you’re aware, there are lots of different types of dirt. Patches of red clay are likely softer than a riverside. With that said, outdoor running provides the best scenery. It can be a nice change of pace from running on a treadmill. Because you’re treading through a variable landscape, there’s more room for adjustment in strides and pace. These shifts work smaller leg muscles that can be underworked when running on treadmills and other flat surfaces. Avoid obstacles as best you can!

Sand

This might be the most strenuous workout, but that can be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s ideal for shorter runs because it’s stressful on your body but it burns a lot of calories. Muscles will feel the burn, joints not so much. But if you’re nursing a sore Achilles, running on sand is a bad idea. Also, try not to run on a sloped beach shore, your knees will thank you.

Grass

Take it back to youthful glory days of playing in the backyard! Along with sand, you can get away with going barefoot on most grass. Shoes or not, this is a soft surface with much more stability than sand. Mix in running on grass when you can, but be careful not to get carried away with too much. It’s low on muscle stress, but the uneven terrain can lead to plantar irritation.

Treadmill

Often times, runners have a love or hate relationship with the treadmill. It’s controlled and stationary, so to some it means watching TV or reading a book. Others feel like they’re staring at a wall. Either way, the machines were made for optimal running, so it’s your safest terrain for avoiding injury or undue stress. Additionally, incline and speed control are ideal for training or building endurance and strength. If you can’t stand the hamster wheel mentality, an outdoor track can serve as a nice substitute.

A runner’s go-to terrain may vary from person to person. It all depends on what your goals are, but cross training is a good way to avoid injury and to stay in shape, not to mention it freshens up the scenery!