Jockology: running surfaces and injuries


As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)


This week’s Jockology column tackles the longstanding question of how different running surfaces affect your risk of injury. The science here is a lot less clear than you might expect.

The question

Will running on hard surfaces like asphalt and concrete increase my risk of injury?

The answer

In a study to be published later this year, Brazilian researchers found that your feet feel about 12 per cent more pressure with each foot strike when running on asphalt compared to grass.
Thanks for that newsflash, Captain Obvious, you might say.
But the findings actually contradict several earlier studies, which – despite what our intuition tells us – have found that we seem to automatically adapt our running stride so that hard and soft surfaces administer roughly the same shock to the body.
In fact, it may be the smoothness of paved surfaces that makes them dangerous to runners, rather than their hardness. And softer, less even surfaces carry their own injury risks, so the best answer may lie somewhere in the middle. [read more…]

(And a random shout-out to Dan Peterson at the Sports Are 80 Percent Mental blog — I think he was the one who introduced me to the prodigious research output of Captain Obvious, though I can’t seem to find the post I’m thinking of anymore!)