Twin Cities in Motion

Track, Treadmill or Pavement: What’s best for my body?

posted on Tue, Nov 15 2011 9:50 am by Mayo Clinic

As the crisp fall weather turns to frost, some runners are making the switch from outdoor running back to the track or treadmill. Allen Gilman, a Health and Wellness Specialist at Mayo Clinic, and Brent Larson, a Wellness Coach at Mayo Clinic, have teamed up to share their expertise on how these different running surfaces affect the body. Both Gilman and Larson are avid runners. In addition to their daily running schedules, Gilman coached track and field and Larson is training for a 50-mile ultramarathon.


Q: How does each surface affect my body?

A:Each surface you run on affects the body differently:

  • Track: Tracks are nice, even surfaces and are usually free of foreign objects, making them safer to run on. All-weather tracks are made of a rubbery material to cushion the impact of running. Tracks are a good option for speed work and running intervals.
  • Treadmills: Treadmills also have forgiving surfaces that aid in the cushioning of your joints. They have an advantage over the track in that you are able to view your speed, distance and time, as well as dictate your running incline.
  • Pavement: Pavement provides little to no cushioning, however, your body is able to recognize this and will “tune” to the surface in just a few steps. This means the muscles that are already working on any surface will become more active on harder surfaces to cushion the body. Pavement is convenient because it is available to most people on a daily basis.


Q: So which is the best running surface for my body?

A:It is difficult to recommend one surface over another because each has its different benefits, as outlined in the answer above. Most people think it’s good to avoid hard surfaces like pavement to reduce the chances for injury, but there is very little meaningful evidence that hard surfaces are any worse for joints than softer surfaces. When deciding which surface is right for you, it is important to keep a few things in mind:

  • Safety: Ask yourself, how safe is the route or area? Think about personal safety issues (i.e. traffic) and injury potential (i.e. running outside on paths that may be icy).
  • Training Goals: Consider the running surface that you will be racing on as well as your level of conditioning.
  • Enjoyment: Try to select a surface that allows you to enjoy the run and is convenient. This will make it easier for you to stay on track with your training goals. For instance, if you are getting weary of the treadmill, try a run outside to get some fresh air.


Q: Is it better to train on one running surface, or use a combination? 

A:Incorporating different surfaces forces the body to adapt, making the feet flex differently than they would on the same surface throughout all of your training. It can help keep you interested and mentally engaged, especially if you have been starting to feel mentally fatigued. Perhaps you are finding the treadmill too monotonous – hop on the track instead. Or maybe you are finding that the sharper turns of the indoor track are causing warning signs of injury, so throw on some warm clothes and head outdoors. And remember, surfaces don’t need to be limited to a track, treadmill or pavement. You could also try gravel, grass or non-paved trails to add variety. For instance, if you are running on a paved road, and if the shoulder is wide enough and not too sloped, try running on that for a few miles. While preferences will certainly vary by individual, what’s most important is that you select a surface that is safe, convenient, enjoyable, and beneficial to your training and goals.


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Mayo Clinic submissions to Mile Marker are reviewed by the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center team. The Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center treats sports and activity related injuries, creates customized exercise programs and provides preventive care for athletes of all levels.

Mayo Clinic is a proud sponsor of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. More than 3,700 physicians, scientists and researchers, and 50,100 allied health staff work at Mayo Clinic, which has campuses in Rochester, Minn; Jacksonville, Fla; and Scottsdale/Phoenix, Ariz.; and community-based providers in more than 70 locations in southern Minnesota., western Wisconsin and northeast Iowa.