Synthetic Track to Woodland Trail: Find the Best Surface for Your Running Training

Most runs take us over a variety of surfaces. This adds variety to your training and makes it more effective by forcing your body to adjust to the changing terrain.

But do you know how the different running surfaces affect your body? Learn about the most common surfaces and how to use them as an effective training tool.

1. Synthetic track

Pros:

A synthetic track is good for structured tempo and interval training. The springy surface is also perfect for beginners or runners coming back from an injury.

Cons:

Runners are taught to run counterclockwise on the track. Over time, this can lead to muscle imbalances. Therefore, it is a good idea to change direction once in a while.

Watch out for Achilles tendon problems:

The rebound effect of the synthetic track puts a lot of stress on your calves and Achilles tendons. Switching to a cinder track can help with this problem.

2. Asphalt

Pros:

Asphalt provides perfect conditions for tempo workouts because you don’t have to pay attention to the surface. Nearly every step is identical, and you can achieve maximum propulsion. This allows you to run at a fast pace.

Cons:

The hard surface means more orthopedic stress (so be careful if you have joint issues). Your choice of shoe is crucial here: make sure to choose a well-cushioned model.

3. Woodland or nature trails

Pros:

Soft woodland or nature trails have the best cushioning and are excellent for joint-friendly training. Plus, they are ideal for a flexible and reactive running technique.

Cons:

The soft surface can sap your strength and slow your pace. Therefore, trails are not well-suited for running at a specific pace – the intensity is high even at slower speeds.

Ein Mann läuft im Wald

4. Mountain trails

Pros:

The constantly changing conditions make mountain trails challenging and lots of fun. Thus, they are good for training your foot strike and running technique to match the terrain. Plus, the effort of compensating for the uneven surfaces and the regular changes in direction work your supporting and stabilizing deep muscles.

Cons:

Be careful – it’s easy to turn an ankle. Therefore, you should only run on mountain trails when you are well rested.

5. Sand

Pros:

When the sand is hard, running on the beach is easy on your joints. When it is soft, you have to pick up your knees, push off harder and apply more strength, which helps you improve your running technique and stamina

Cons:

Running on the soft surface is very exhausting – therefore, you should incorporate regular breaks to avoid overuse injuries. On long runs, the slant of the beach can lead to pelvic obliquity. To avoid this, you should change directions regularly.

Eine Frau läuft im Sand

6. Grass

Pros:

Grass is ideal for barefoot running. It strengthens your foot muscles and improves your running technique. Plus, well-maintained grass provides the best cushioning.

Cons:

You have to be careful when training barefoot to run on well-groomed grass free of rocks and broken glass.

7. Treadmill

Pros:

Running on the treadmill is easy on your tendons and ligaments. It is a good, low-impact way to start training again after an injury or a break from running. Plus, you can select the pace and the incline of the surface.

Cons:

Treadmill running is not the same as running outdoors. The ground is literally being pulled underneath your feet, so you achieve a much smaller training effect. Plus, most of the stress during the push-off is on your calves and Achilles tendons. This can lead to overuse injuries.

Takeaway: Each surface has pros and cons for your running training. You should choose the surface that is best for you based on your training goal and try to switch things up from time to time to keep your training fresh and exciting.

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Sascha Wingenfeld Sascha, health trainer & active triathlete, has been coaching runners from beginners to professionals for over 10 years. "I love my job and I love running." View all posts by Sascha Wingenfeld »

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