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Applied Movement Blog

Concrete Running

Running on concrete.

Our bodies were designed for movement on all terrains. However when we were designed there was no concrete or asphalt. In my opinion we cannot run on concrete for long without some form of consequence. It’s not just the hardness of the concrete that matters, it is the pro-longed exposure to it that is just as bad or worse.


Most recreational runners run on sidewalks. Everyday you’ll see them pounding away at the pavement, never once touching the grass, sand, or dirt. They are suffering from the “path to least resistance.”  Grass is uneven they think and it’s bad for the ankles, the concrete is level in their minds, in other words, “it’s easier”. However, the stress of impact from concrete repeatedly creates unnecessary stress on your muscular and skeletal system.


The usual runner’s injuries include Iliotibial Band Syndrome and Shin Splints. This injury , Iliotibial Band Syndrome, is caused by a weakness in the glutes. The glutes act as stabilizers to control side-to-side movements of the hips. When people run on a flat surface though, the glutes aren’t really needed since it’s easy to balance on a level surface such as concrete.  You don’t really see people making an effort to run over cracks now do you? By always running straight ahead some of your leg muscles become stronger than others, leading to an imbalance. When you see people running sideways, and that’s hardly ever, they’re trying to prevent their glutes from getting weaker and ward off muscle imbalances. While a smart idea, unless they run sideways for half of their run it won’t really make a difference.


Reality Therapy


Running on concrete or asphalt creates various maladies for a runner. It creates the dreaded three versions of “shin splints”, medial tibial stress syndrome, compartment syndrome, and stress fractures. All three has the potential to disrupt your running career. This is where I give runners my “reality therapy.”  When I ask a client or inquiring individual, “Does it hurt when you run?”, this is a “yes” or “no” question. If they respond, “only when I don’t warm-up...”, they are missing the point. If I hear that then “yes” it hurts, pain is a message or a signal to let you know something is not right. I stress that you should never run through any pain. No pain, no gain does work in the long run. Check your ego at the door. All of these three shin maladies are caused and worsened by continuing to run on a unforgiving surface.


The human body is designed to absorb shock, but you must educate yourself to know the limits. By repeatedly exposing your body to a repetitive pounding on concrete there is a possibility to crack your tibia, aka stress fracture. So I highly recommend you avoid running on any hard surface if you can avoid it.


What is the alternative?


Get off the concrete and find various terrain. Ideally everybody should be running trails (Trail Running). The trail should be soft, perpetually changing with unstable surfaces. This will ensure well-rounded fitness and improve your reflexes and balance. Run the beaches, find a grass field and knock off some sprint intervals.  On trails, hop over logs, skip over a river or pond if and when necessary or for just plain fun. Look for stairs and hills and work them into your route. Mix it up and have fun. Just remember to vary the terrain to get as much stimulation as possible. By doing this it will decrease your chance of injury, increase your strength, and improve your body awareness.


I understand it may be difficult to recondition your mind and body to stop running on concrete because you’re used to it, the “path of least resistance” is intriguing. Concrete running seems the norm, and that’s where people run when they have a race/marathon. Just because they have a race there, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. If you plan on competing in a race, train there, but don’t only train there. Regulate your exposure, and vary the stresses for overall fitness.


Stay tuned for our next blog on running, "Barefoot Running."


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