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What are the Best Surfaces to Run on?

As part of many fitness routines, I regularly suggest cardiovascular exercises for my clients. Some people choose to ride bikes, use stair climbers or rollerblades. There are several options available.

Of all the cardio choices, it's the runners I worry about the most. Running or jogging is a great way to improve your cardio fitness, but it's important that you're educated about the surfaces you're running on.

The best surfaces for jogging on are firm, relatively flat and smooth.

Picture - Treadmill

Treadmills can be great places to run. The surface is flat, smooth and cushioned. You can vary your workout precisely with computer-assisted controls and even watch TV while doing it. Plus you don't have to deal with bad weather. Unfortunately, running on a treadmill can be boring.

Picture - Road

Roads may seem like an excellent place to run, but most of them are "cambered" (slightly arched) so that water runs off the center. If you jog on the edge of a road with the flow of traffic, the slant will cause your right foot to supinate (roll outwards) and your left foot to pronate (roll inwards). Plus the traffic can be dangerous.

Picture - Track

Tracks are generally the best place to jog outside, but they have two disadvantages you should plan around. First, because the space is limited, you are forced to turn frequently and might strain your muscles unevenly. Second, some tracks are sloped, which can cause one foot to supinate and the other to pronate. To combat these problems, jog on the outermost track and switch directions to work your muscles evenly.

Picture - Sidewalk Narrow

Sidewalks generally aren't cambered, but they are much harder than the asphalt most roads are made of. If you're not careful, the hard concrete surfaces of sidewalks may cause stress injuries. Also, many sidewalks are cracked and uneven, with pedestrian traffic in the way.

Picture - Wide Sidewalk

If you want to run on a sidewalk in Key West, the best alternative is the wide and relatively even sidewalk at Smathers Beach.

Picture - Golf Course

Parks and grassy places (like golf courses) may seem like ideal places to run, but unfortunately, the unevenness of the surface make injuries common. Grass also hides holes and foreign objects that can be treacherous. If you're going to run in parks, stick to the trails.

Picture - Trail

On a dirt trail, you're more likely to see and avoid obstacles.

Picture - Clay Path

Cinder or clay paths can be good places to run if you watch out for two things. First, make sure they're not bumpy or full of holes. Second make sure they're not wet. Clay and cinder can get slippery when wet, so move to another surface on rainy days.

Picture - Beach

Beaches can be one of the worst places to run. The sand is soft and creates uneven footing, which in turn puts undue stress on your leg muscles. You also have to deal with beach sloping, and that causes the same problem as a cambered road, with one foot supinating and the other pronating. If you absolutely must run on the beach, do so at low tide when you can run on the packed sand and a flatter stretch of the beach. Remember to change directions so you can reverse the stress on your legs.

Special Note: In a study called Mechanics and energetics of human locomotion on sand, researchers found that running on sand was 1.6 times more expensive than on a firm floor surface.

Finally, warm-up before you start to make sure your muscles are working most efficiently and don't over-train. If you jog every single day, you're wearing your body down and not allowing time for muscles to build. Give your body a chance to heal and grow.

Click Here to learn how to choose the best running shoes.

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Updated 2/10/2014
Updated 4/9/2015