Last Updated: February 7th, 2021
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Just think when you were a kid and played with tennis ball. This tennis ball bounces beautifully on the tennis court. Now when you take it to your lawn it stops bouncing. Annoying.. right! Ever wondered why it happened? What is making it bounce high more in the case of concrete? Is the weight of the ball changing? No.. this happens because the force with which the ball is reflected is much more in case of concrete than grass. This is exactly what happens when we run on concrete. In today’s world, most of us get to run only on concrete surfaces. Call it a time crunch or space crunch. This is the price of urbanization.
Is running on concrete bad for you?
No running on concrete is not bad for you if you are using the right shoes. Concrete is one of the hardest surfaces for running and hence the reflective force is more. You must use running shoes with appropriate cushions to absorb the shockwave produced by running on concrete. If you happen to trip and fall on concrete the extent of the injury is more in case of concrete than any other surface.
Let’s see how various surfaces impact your performance..
Why is running on concrete bad for you?
Concrete is relatively a harder surface to run as compared to the other surfaces.
The harder the surface is, the lesser is its elasticity.
The shock absorption of the surface is directly proportional to the elasticity.
Hence the shock absorption of concrete is least and it reflects the shock waves back to the feet.
The shock waves can cause a lot of damage to your body :
- Damage soft tissue
- Cause joint pain
- Stress fracture
The bottom of the foot has 10-20mm fat layer that acts as a natural shock absorber.
This could get damaged due to age, ailments and medication.
The possibility of tripping while running cannot be avoided.
Concrete being a tough surface can cause severe injuries.
The most common ones being:
- Soft tissue damage
- Head injury
- Bruises and abrasions
- Spinal cord injury
- Internal blood clots
Is it better to run on asphalt or concrete?
Both concrete and asphalt have comparable hardness.
The difference being under high temperature (surface temperature 70 Celsius), the elasticity of asphalt is increased.
At around 20 degree celsius, concrete absorbs 10 times less energy than asphalt.
The compression is practically insignificant if around 130-140 pound of runner lands on either surfaces.
Hence the impact of running on both concrete and asphalt is more or less the same.
If you are using running shoes with proper cushioning that acts as shock absorber, the result is same.
However, while running bare foot you can feel significant difference.
The stress is more if you are running on concrete.
The other difference is the way the concrete and asphalt are paved.
Concrete is mostly leveled uniformly.
The asphalt paved road are paved in crown shaped.
Meaning the center is higher than the sides of the road.
So unless you do not run on the center of the road your feet does not fall at the same level.
Mostly both concrete and asphalt are paved and makes it convenient to run.
They both are mapped and it becomes easier to track the mileage.
Is it better to run on concrete or grass?
I am sure you know the answer by now.
Well, let’s summaries how grass works better
- Softer surface – Grass is softer than concrete. It is capable of absorbing more pressure than concrete. The reflective pressure on your foot is lesser when you run on the grass.
- Less impact on foot – Since the absorption of pressure is more in grass, it is gentle for your joints, softer tissues. There is less chance of knee pain.
- Better leg strength – Running on the grass makes your leg work faster. Hence it improves the leg strength.
- Affect of temperature – Concrete gets heated up when the mercury level is more making it more difficult to run. Grass on the other hand retains moisture thereby lowering the temperature making it comfortable for you. If you plan to run during mid-day when the temperature is high, it is better to opt for grass.
The grass surface can sometime be uneven.
If you are not vigilant there are chances of tripping over.
During wet season these can be slippery making if difficult to run.
There can be bugs so you need to be prepared for that.
But still the extend of injury is lesser on grass than on concrete.
I am used to tripping and falling even otherwise also, hence I usually prefer to run on grass.
What are the best shoes for running on concrete?
Shoes are an essential part of running.
Your performance is dependent on the type of shoes which you are using.
Shoes are designed differently for different purposes.
Shoes can be categorized based on various factors:
- Running or walking
- Foot arch type – Normal, high arch or low arch
- Surface type – Different shoes are available for running across tracks, trails, grass or concrete
- Pronation type – Overpronated, nuetral or underpronated.
Selecting the wrong shoes not only impacts your performance but also makes you more susceptible to injury.
Concrete is a very hard surface to run.
While running you are exerting up to 3-5 times your body weight on the surface.
Since concrete has very little absorb-ability the same force is exerted on your foot.
Hence to minimize the effect, you need shoes designed specifically for concrete running.
Some of the features may include:
Cushioning – Cushioning is very important in concrete running shoes. It is required to absorb the shock wave and reduce the stress on the joints.
Fit – The shoe should fit you properly. By this we mean it should neither be tight nor too lose. There should be some gap between the toes and front of the shoes. This is required because when you land on your foot, it expands. There should be half an inch of space. The best time to buy your shoes is the evening when your feet area is swollen.
Flexibility – The running shoes must be very flexible to provide adequate stability.
What is the best surface to run on?
Honestly, there is no surface as the best surface.
The selection of surface depends on the availability, your physical condition, your goal and the type of shoes you wear.
Sometimes you do not have many options available.
Other times if you are preparing for any particular race, then select the surface accordingly.
A healthy runner should switch between the different surfaces.
This gives you the capability to adapt to different surfaces and also prevent injury.
If you do not have many options available try running on different routes or switching between the directions.
In this way, you do not get used to a set pattern and become monotonous.
The run becomes challenging and fun.
Each surface comes with its own pros and cons.
So far, we have discussed a few of the surfaces in depth.
Concrete – It is the hardest surface for running. We have the other details here.
Asphalt – Asphalt is a bit more elastic than concrete. You can check above.
Grass – A grass or muddy surface is much soft as compared to concrete and asphalt. Read here for more.
Sand – Sand is softer than grass. The detials on running on sand are present here.
Trail – Like grass, a trail offers a soft surface for running. You can run a long low impact running on the trail. Trail running can be quite serene and scenic and you get to enjoy your run more. The only issue with trail running is it can be uneven and sloppy. If you plan to train at a particular pace try to avoid trails due to its unpredictability.
Snow – Like sand, even snow offers you a slow paced running but it is a good amount of workout. However, you must be cautious as it can be slippery.
Track – The rubberized track offers you a leveled and low impact running. This is a great option if you are recovering from an injury. Most;y tracks are 400 mts so it is easier to measure the distance and pace. However, persistent running on the track could be tedious, monotonous and can cause a lot of impact on the joints.
Treadmill – A treadmill is a great option if you are a beginner. They are padded causing less impact on the foot and joints. You have the option to select the pace and incline. The latest ones come with more enhanced features and in-built various workout patterns. It is a great option to opt for in case of extreme weather conditions. The treadmill is safe and convenient to run.
Is it good to run on sand?
I love beaches…sun, sea, sand…
Perfect to set the mood.
Sand is one of the softest surfaces to run.
It does not cause too much impact on the joints.
Moreover, running on sand requires a full range of motion.
It is a complete workout for ankles to hip flexors and even for the arms.
Running on loose dry sand strengthens the arches, ankles and calf muscle more than running on harder surfaces.
And all this comes without causing much impact on the joints and soft tissues.
Even short duration running on the sand for 2-3 weeks shows significant improvement in the leg muscles.
Some studies show that running on sand makes you burn more calories than running concrete or asphalt.
Great workout…isn’t it?
Running on sand gives you the option to run barefoot.
Barefoot running is great for your feet and ankles.
However, should not run barefoot too fast or too frequently, as this may cause injury.
This may cause Plantar Fasciitis, ankle sprain or Achilles.
Start running by 15-20 min initially at a comfortable pace.
Once you get used to it, you can gradually increase the time.
Sandy surfaces are prone to shells and sharp objects.
You must watch out for these while running barefoot.
There is no restriction on the type of shoes that you need to use on sand.
You can use any lightweight trail running shoes or regular running shoes.
No need to invest in any particular shoes, not heavy on your pocket.
The sandy surface may be cambered or uneven, which may bring uneven stress to your foot.
You can try the different workouts on the sand to make your running interesting.
- Running a long run on the wet hard-packed sand at a comfortable pace.
- Running alternately on the wet sand and dry lose sand
- Accenting to a sand hill after a quick jog on the wet sand. Repeating a couple of accents should suffice.
A couple of tips if you plan to run on sand
- Apply sunscreen generously on all uncovered body parts.
- Use a hat
- Wear a good quality sunglasses.
- Stay hydrated
Which is the fastest running surface?
You must be wondering what the surface has to do with your running.
You would have experienced this yourself where you are able to run faster.
Yes.. it is concrete.
Concrete is the hardest surface for running, the reflective force is more and you are able to run faster.
In case of trail or mud, it is difficult to match the pace tempo run for long.
You need to exert more effort for the same as compared to concrete.
Since these are uneven surfaces, you cannot maintain the same speed and need to be cautious.
These factors also slow you down.
The same is the case with sand and snow.
Sand and snow is even more elastic and hence the impact is even more reduce
With snow, there is a major chance of slipping so it’s safe to go slow.
So true, you run the best on concrete!!
Running on concrete has always bothered my shins after time. Running on sand is not great for my calves although it’s pretty peaceful. I stick to asphalt for most of my runs
Running on asphalt is more practical for me as well…as I’m am mostly a road runner 😉