Running Surfaces: Knowing The Difference Makes The Difference

Running Surfaces: Knowing The Difference Makes The Difference

Treadmill vs. pavement vs. natural terrain

Whether you’re going for a morning jog or training for a marathon, the ground you’re running on makes all the difference. Of course, the debate over running indoors versus outdoors is definitely not a new one. And if you’re a runner who cares about his endurance, joints and overall health, it’s a conversation worth having. We spoke with Keith Hodges, an in-demand LA trainer who’s worked with athletes on all levels including the NBA, NFL and MMA. As the founder of Mind In Muscle Coaching, he’s constantly tailoring programs to his clients’ needs and the pandemic brought a lot of his workouts outdoors.

He says there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to running on dirt, concrete or the best machines on the market. All surfaces have their pros and cons based on your individual training needs and personal goals.

Running on the treadmill is actually easier than running on the pavement or on trails. Most treadmills automatically move according to the pace it’s set - that makes it easier on you and will aid in your turnover. From personal experience, my mile times on the treadmill are actually faster than they are running on the pavement. The surface of the treadmill is a little more forgiving. So is running on the treadmill bad? No. It’s a great form of cross-training, interval training or recovery (to condition tissues to absorb ground contact). And for those new to running, I’d say start by running on the treadmill before progressing to the outdoors.

* Trainer-recommended sneakers: Nike Air ZoomX SuperRep Surge and Underamrour Project Rock 3

Running on the pavement is tougher for a few reasons. You can’t dictate incline as you would be able to with a treadmill. A road or sidewalk is never completely flat, which increases the demand for oxygen to maintain pace. The unpredictability of the weather adds another element that’s out of your control. Wind, humidity, elevation and temperature play a major role in how challenging your run may or may not be. It’s also especially important to strength train if running outside. Flexibility and mobility are a must because paved ground is much more taxing on the joints and less forgiving than treadmill, beach or trail running.

* Trainer-recommended sneakers: ASICS Gel Nimbus 23 and Brooks Adrenaline GTS

Trail running When you want to mix things up, trail running (or even running on the beach) is a nice option. I like these because it teaches your body to be more aware in uneven terrain. And while it’s performed at a slower pace than pavement running, it actually may require a little more endurance depending on the distance. Though they are less taxing on the joints, most trails place more of a proprioceptive demand on the body. Trail surfaces vary from grass, dirt, sand and mud, each of which stresses the body in unique ways. It’s no surprise to see that trail runners usually have more muscular legs than distance runners.

* Trainer-recommended sneakers: HOKA Speedgoat 4 and Nike Pegasus Trail 2

When to swap your shoes

Keith says that since he runs mostly on pavement, cushioning is important. “I like it bouncy, so when I don’t feel the same response or get the same output from regular workouts, I know it’s time to swap in new shoes.”

Lead photo credit - Stan Evans
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