Master Trainer Jared Stokes weighs in with his expert insight into the timeless fitness question, “Is running on pavement safe?” Jared Stokes is a health and fitness professional with a EdD. in Health Education from Columbia University in New York City, in addition to his extensive personal training experience. Today Mr. Stokes gives the hard facts on this longtime fitness quandary, and how you can minimize the risk of injury.
At some point in our lives we’ve all witnessed the dedicated runner, making their way along a sidewalk or street where a path has been created for their safety. While it is certainly commendable that an individual decides to run outdoors, thus remaining physically active and presumably healthy, one must ask, “Is running on pavement good for one’s joints?” One could assume the answer is no, since pavement is “rock-like” and probably doesn’t give when one exerts force on it. Nevertheless, people continue to run. Here, we will tackle the actual risks, or non-risks, associated with running on pavement.
Pavement: Asphalt vs. Concrete Difference
For the benefit of clarity, pavement is defined here as asphalt. Asphalt is reportedly the most recycled material in America, and is often used on city streets, park trails, or sidewalks. This is not to be confused with concrete, which is made by mixing a cement binder with an aggregate material and then letting the mixture harden, which forms a rock-like substance.
Asphalt, on the other hand, is made by mixing an aggregate with bitumen, which is a sticky black hydrocarbon extracted from crude oil. Columnist Trent Jonas (2017) advises runners to avoid concrete whenever possible.4
Is Running on Pavement Safe? The Brass Tacks
Getting down to brass tacks, let’s explore the safety of running on asphalt pavement. According to popular running guru Erin Beresini (2013), data on this debate is mixed.1 As mentioned, many believe that certain running surfaces can lead to injury, but this is a long time debate among fitness experts.
Certain experts seemingly point to myriad additional factors involved. For example, a study led by Dr. Ida Buist (2010) of University Medical Center Groningen, Netherlands, observed gender-specific predictors of running-related injuries (RRIs) in inexperienced “runners training for a 4-mile distance run.”2
The results of this study found that for men Body Mass Index (BMI), having participating in sports without axial loading prior to the study, and having previous musculoskeletal injury of the lower limbs or back were significant predictors of RRI. For women, navicular drop was the only significant predictor of RRI the study found. It should be noted, however, the running surface was not assessed in this study.
In Trent Jonas’ (2013) view, he concluded that asphalt is associated with the lowest amount of shock forces exhibited on a runners body, or minimal impact on one’s locomotor system.4 Jonas (2013) furthermore asserted that asphalt is the best running surface when compared with cement and grass, although gravel might be a better option overall.4 Beresini (2013) purported that runners should consider mixing up their running surfaces to minimize possible injury.1
All in all, the debate continues pressing onwards.
Proper Distance Running Technique
One thing is for certain: the way one runs and their running equipment are critical factors to consider. First, let’s address the way one runs, or running technique. Moore (2016) looked at biomechanical factors that affect running economy, or the rate of oxygen one’s intakes at a given submaximal running pace.
Results showed that biomechanical factors effecting so-called running economy included “spatiotemporal factors, lower limb kinematics, kinetics, neuromuscular factors, shoe–surface interactions, and trunk and upper limb biomechanics” (Moore, 2016, p. 803). In laymen English, this study proved that runners should be highly conscious of their running form. Here is the overall best approach to perfect your running technique.
Techniques for running form include the following:
- Have proper posture when running – that means back straight up!
- Keep your feet pointed straight ahead rather than to the side.
- Land midfoot rather than on your heel.
- Look upwards and ahead.
- Relax your hands and shoulders.
- Keep your arms at your sides.
- Don’t bounce as you run.
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Proper Running Shoes: Beginning at the Point of Contact
Last – but hardly least – runners should put considerable effort finding the proper equipment when deciding to run, namely running shoes. A study by Kathleen O’Leary et. al (2008) found that “the use of cushioned insoles during running resulted in significant reductions in mean vertical ground reaction force peak impact and loading rate, as well as peak tibial acceleration.”5 Dale (2017) also supported the idea of finding shoes with extra padding when running on pavement. Moreover, one should make sure that their shoe has the proper fit.
These may appear like common sense, no-brainer suggestions. Though many runners, or aspiring runners, do not always take the proper time and effort to implement these required preparations for their run. The devil is perpetually in the details, and running is no different.
Is Running on Pavement Safe? Common Sense and Good Information Is Key
In total, the risks of running on pavement is a complex topic and activity, one that all runners must invest time and energy to perfect. It is clear that there are certain risks that come with road running on pavement, however those risks can be mitigated with proper technique, equipment, and most importantly common sense. Have you suffered previous lower limb or back injury? Have you invested in high quality running shoes? Do you employ proper technique? Have you sought out the advice of a credible personal trainer? These are the questions runners – or aspiring runners – must ask themselves. However like all good exercise of choice, it requires the dedication of the individual to find good information to achieve their desired goal.
Do you have any fitness questions for Master Trainer Stokes? E-mail him at email@example.com
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1 – Beresini, E. (2013, October 06). The Best Running Surface for Your Knees. Retrieved January 24, 2018, from https://www.outsideonline.com/1784266/best-running-surface-your-knees
2 – Buist, I., Bredeweg, S. W., Lemmink, K. A., Van Mechelen, W., & Diercks, R. L. (2010). Predictors of running-related injuries in novice runners enrolled in a systematic training program.
3 – The American journal of sports medicine, 38(2), 273-280.
4 – Jonas, T. (2017, September 11). Running on Cement, Asphalt & Grass. Retrieved January 24, 2018, from
5 – O’Leary, K., Vorpahl, K. A., & Heiderscheit, B. (2008). Effect of cushioned insoles on impact forces during running. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, 98(1), 36-41.