Dedicated runners are often in search of the ideal running surface. Although many runners are concerned that running on hard surfaces might hurt their joints, University of Texas exercise physiologist Hirofumi Tanaka argues that soft surfaces can be just as tough on the joints. There’s no clear choice when you’re debating between running on the sidewalk and the street. Instead, you’ll have to weigh the relative merits of the specific street or sidewalk you consider.
The concrete of a sidewalk is harder than the asphalt of the street. While some runners worry that this can cause joint damage, this opinion is not universal, as Tanaka emphasizes by stating that soft surfaces can also damage the joints. If you’re forced to choose, though, roads are generally more even and less prone to dangerous cracks. Your considerations shouldn’t end there though. You’ll also need to evaluate the overall quality of the pavement. A cracked street covered in potholes presents a risk to most runners, while a sidewalk with uneven concrete or lots of obstructions can quickly cause you to trip and fall. Try walking for five to 10 minutes on each surface to determine which feels better on your joints.
Most races occur on street asphalt, so if you’re training for a particular event, you can be better prepared by practicing on the street. The choice between the sidewalk and street can also affect the relative difficulty of your routine. If the sidewalk you want to run on is right next to the street, it probably has the same incline. But if you’re comparing a sidewalk and street in two different locations, you’ll need to weigh your fitness goals. If you want the most challenging run, choose the surface that has a steeper incline. This will burn more calories and help to steadily strengthen your legs and improve your endurance.
Both streets and sidewalks can have obstructions that can interfere with your running groove, but sidewalks are more likely to be crowded by children’s toys and pedestrians. If you run in a neighborhood where cars park on the street, though, the cars can obstruct your vision and make it challenging for drivers to see you. Consider which surface has more obstructions in your area, and choose the one that offers the most visibility and the fewest obstacles. If you run in the street, always wear bright clothes and keep an eye out for cars.
Other Running Surfaces
You’re not limited to choosing between the sidewalk and street. As Tanaka points out, soft surfaces can be hard on the joints, too, and there’s an ongoing debate in the running community about the best running surface. Runner’s World ranks grass as the best running surface because the soft surface can cushion falls and forces your muscles to work slightly harder. Dirt offers some of the same benefits, but can be more uneven, increasing the risk of a fall. You might also consider running on a track, treadmill, or on cinders — which have a similar texture to the road but typically cause less pain in the legs.
- Fitsugar: Trail or Sidewalk? The Pros and Cons of Running on Different Surfaces
- Runner’s World: Top 10 Running Surfaces
- The New York Times: For Runners, Soft Ground Can Be Hard on the Body