Is running your go-to guy when you need a workout? Do you strap on a pair of sneakers and hit the road simply for the love of it? Then perhaps it's time to mix things up a bit. Different kinds of running surfaces offer varying benefits, and present different kinds of running experiences. It's important to understand how your training routine stands to gain from each of these surfaces -- and also what to watch out for when you're trying an unfamiliar surface for the first time. Here's a guide that weighs the merits and demerits of some common running surfaces:
Running on the treadmill
For most people, the treadmill is their first initiation into running. It is undoubtedly convenient because it offers varying levels of challenge to suit beginners as well as professional athletes. It helps those who have never exercised before to gradually build up their stamina. "It is a good idea to start training with the treadmill because it allows you to be very much in control of your exercise," says Heath Matthews, physiotherapist with the Champions Trust. "Supposing you want to run 2 km at a gentle pace, you can adjust your pace and incline to achieve that." Being a cushioned surface, the treadmill also has lesser impact on the knees than running on a tar road. If you like variety in your routine, the treadmill also offers a range of pre-set programmes that offer different kinds of training.
Running on the beach
The beach is an excellent training ground because it provides different kinds of workouts.
"The wet sand that is closer to the water is great for short runs because it has a relatively low impact on the knees and calves," says Rahul Verghese, founder of the running group, Running and Living. Running on this hard, wet surface is similar to running on grass, according to Matthews.
Running on loose sand is a whole different ball game. "Dry sand gives in so you have to grind very hard to run on it," says Matthews. "The underfoot and the muscles of the ankle have to work a lot harder. But you can really strain your calf if you do too much too soon." He advises that you stick to short sprints on loose sand, and only if you're an athlete.
Running on the road
Although running on a tar road can mean putting some pressure on your knees, the surface is still among the most convenient to train on. It is also the surface of choice for professional runners. "A tar road gives a little more than concrete, which is the hardest surface and has a pretty high impact," says Verghese. "In dry cities, dust gets swept on to the sides of the road. That's a good surface to run on because it provides cushioning."
But it's important to pay attention to the gradient of the road, because steep dips or inclines can put a lot of pressure on your knees. If you must run on concrete, make sure you're wearing the right shoes. "When you run on concrete, you put the equivalent of four to five times your body weight on your knees. This can have an impact on your skeletal system," says Verghese.
Running on grass
An even, grassy surface is ideal for running because it provides the right grip and reduces impact. But watch out for uneven patches. "A regular earth trail or grass is good," says Verghese. "But the chances of hitting a crater and twisting your foot are relatively high."
All you need to know
Concrete has the maximum impact on your feet and knees. So if you must run on it, make sure your have the right shoes. Running on dry sand can also cause excessive strain, so run only in short bursts.
The best surface is a regular mud trail, just watch out for sudden depressions. Most marathon runners tend to train on tar roads. To add intensity, you can run on the wet sand close to the water.
A treadmill is the best place to start, since it has lesser impact and allows you to control the pace of your workout completely.
Mix it up
If you're training for the marathon, run on the road 2-3 times a week. Run on harder sand in running shoes once a week and get on the treadmill once or twice a week, using the hill or interval training programmes. Don't run more than 4-5 times a week.