Prolong your running life by swapping some pavement-pounding for softer surfaces:
Running is a high-impact sport. At Apex Clinic, our physios treat a vast number of running injuries resulting directly from the cumulative stress placed on the body from thousands of foot strikes on concrete or paved ground.
Our shoes can only ever absorb some of the shock of running on hard surfaces – the rest is transferred to our bones, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments. The fact that each stride on a hard or paved surface is roughly the same as the last causes the exact same stress forces to take their toll stride after stride, leading to significantly increased likelihood of runners developing early arthritis in their knees, hips and even lower back. This arthritis will eventually stop their running career completely.
At Apex Clinic, we recommend you mix up your training by interspercing a variety of softer surfaces and terrains with your road running. Which surface should you choose?
Grass is a great surface for running on, especially the type of grassland found in parks, football and cricket pitches. It is soft and low impact as a surface and actually makes your muscles work harder due to the give in the ground. This means you will notice the difference when you return to road running which may even seem a bit easier. More than on the roads, you need to pay attention to where you are putting your feet in order to avoid any nasty twists or sprains but your joints will thank you for it!
Forest parks and woodland trails are excellent surfaces for running. Often accompanied by mile upon mile of stunning views, bark trails are soft underfoot and relatively level. They can become muddy or flooded in winter which can be hazardous to ankles, but in general these are amongst our most recommended surfaces for your bodies and minds!
Soft and spongy underfoot, sand is a great surface for building leg strength and giving your calf muscles a top workout without the impact on your joints. There’s plenty of variety for running on the beach: you can do sprints or intervals on harder sand, or endurance/recovery running on the softer sand. You may also wish to experiment with a bit of bare-foot running which is great for strengthening ankles and encouraging good natural running posture. With unevenness and softness of surface, there may be a risk of injuring the Achilles. As with all running on new surfaces, make sure you build up the time on the surface and the intensity of the running gradually.
Although a bit boring, sometimes the trusty treadmill is the only option when the weather’s bad. Treadmills are generally evenly paced and relatively soft, so less stressful on the joints than pounding the pavement. Listening to music may be the only light relief to reducing the boredom here!
So, which soft surface is best?
The answer is: all of them! Depending on your body and history of injuries you can use different softer surfaces to mix in with your road running. We recommend no more than three runs on the road per week in the long term. So, why not go “off road” this week to spice up your training and stay running for longer.