What is The Difference Between Running on a Road vs Grass?


question-icon-newI used to run a couple of miles everyday outside on a grass field. Due to unavailability of space, I’m planning to continue my running routine but it will be on a road which is pavement. Does it make any difference if I run on the road instead of grass? Will it harm my muscles or bones? I heard that it is harmful to run on a paved road or cement surface. Is this true?

answer-icon-newThis is a great question and a very interesting subject in general. The answer really depends on a number of factors. Without knowing your specific genetic makeup and running background it is difficult to give a specific answer but there are 3 main areas that most everyone should look into when making the transition from grass or trail running to road running.

Your Body
I start here because it is the most personal area of the 3 topics we will discuss. It’s vitally important that you assess your general bodily make-up when considering running as your cardio workout of choice. Do you have a bad back? If so, is it upper or lower? Do you have a bum knee? If so, what types of activities seem to make it flare up? Are you prone to shin splints? Do you have a wide foot or a narrow foot? High arch or flat foot? Do you have other runners in your family? How much running have you done in the past and are there any nagging sore spots you’ve noticed as a result of this running? These are just a few of the types of questions that are very important to ask because there is technology and science that you can use to your advantage but only if you are aware of the answers.

Your Running Shoes
I can’t over-exaggerate the importance of getting fitted for a running shoe that is appropriate to your physical needs. This is where the answers to the questions asked above become critical. Find a local retailer that specializes in running and running shoes. Generally, the staff will be runners themselves and are extremely helpful with fitting you with the proper shoe and answering any questions you may have. I have to stress the importance of finding a store that specializes in running. At a general sports store you will be taking your chances with finding someone on the floor that is well qualified specifically in the sport of running. Once at the store, they will ask you many of the questions I have asked above and they could and should ask you many more.

trail-runningYou may also get to play around with some pretty fun technology. Many running shops now have Digital Foot Analysis Boards and Video Gait Analysis systems. A digital foot board looks much like a scale you would step on to weigh yourself but this device actually reads the pressure points exerted by your individual foot pressure and gives a detailed analysis of the type of support your particular foot needs. Cool stuff!

Video Gait Analysis is the process of taking video of you running on a specialized treadmill to determine how your foot strikes the ground with your particular running technique. A runners “gait” is simply the pattern of movement ones foot takes throughout the strides of running. The insight gained from this analysis is invaluable not only for fitting you with the proper running shoe but also for troubleshooting injuries. For example, you may see through video that you have a tendency to land on the insides of your feet when running. This not only calls for a shoe that provides the proper support for such a tendency but may also shed light on why this person may have knee pain after running.

As the foot strikes the ground in this unbalanced position it sends repetitive stress up the lower leg into the tendons and ligaments of the inner knee leading to a host of repetitive stress injuries. So get into that running store and get yourself fitted for a proper shoe, it can be a lot of fun and your body will thank you!

Your Running Technique
One of the great things about running on grass or a soft trail is that it provides a great cushion for the stresses of running. But of equal benefit is that natural terrain like this is inherently uneven. This means that the foot will not strike the ground in the same place each step. Even if you are running on a perfectly level grassy area, the small undulations of the underlying dirt provides small variances on where the foot is being stressed. This small variance over thousands of steps can help prevent stress injuries. On pavement however, this variance is minimal and the ground is much harder so any stress to certain parts of the body from improper technique are magnified.

So let’s take look at technique. Many people assume that when jogging the proper technique or “gait” is for the foot to land on the heel then roll to the toe. But research on the best distance runners in the world shows that this is actually incorrect. This is not the way the human body is designed to run. It is only because shoes provide a cushion at the heel that we are even able to run heel-to-toe.

To demonstrate this I often have people run a short distance barefoot or with socks only. Rarely have I seen a heel touch the ground during this demonstration. Also, people often tend to remark that they felt lighter while running this way. This is because the proper muscles are being engaged to run the way the body was intended to run. In fact, running shoe companies are following this research and designing a whole gamut of running shoes designed to facilitate “barefoot” running. These shoes are designed with much less cushion in the heel so that you will naturally run more on the mid-foot or balls of your feet.

Running this way also strengthens the many small muscles on the bottom of the feet that normally are not activated with a traditional running shoe. It does however take some time to adjust to these shoes if one is new to this style of running. Again this is something to talk over with the person at a running specialty store as there are many options for this type of shoe as well.

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1 Comment

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    I think running on grass is an excellent way to reduce the chances of impact-related injuries and an excellent way to improve overall balance and proprioception.

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