The Benefits Of Running On Grass

Running on grass can help take your training to another level. Check out our expert tips on why it works, how to get started, and some great grass workouts.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

There are many reasons why there are huge benefits to running on grass — regardless of experience or ability level. Most obvious is the fact that grass offers runners the benefit of a softer surface, which is an excellent way to reduce the chances of impact-related injury. There are non-intuitive benefits as well. “Grass workouts are an excellent way to improve overall balance and proprioception as well as strengthen the feet,” says Pete Rea, the elite athlete coach and coordinator at ZAP Fitness in Blowing Rock, N.C.

Dennis Barker, the head coach of Team USA Minnesota, agrees that balance is developed on grass, as the slightly uneven surface engages smaller muscles in your feet, ankles, legs and hips — areas that don’t get worked as much on a flat, smooth surface. “The softer surface requires more strength to run on quickly,” he says.

Barker also says that running on grass provides mental benefits. “If you are training for a track or road race, it’s a mental break from the workouts done on those surfaces,” he says. “You know that your times will be faster once you go back on the track or road.”

Getting Started

If you’ve never run on grass before, Rea suggests taking three weeks to transition to running on turf before attempting faster workouts. He recommends ending 1-2 of your easy runs a week with 15-20 minutes of grass running to get your body used to navigating the softer, more uneven terrain.

“When using grass for running sessions be certain to look for more even green such as soccer fields or golf courses,” advises Rea. “Lumpy uneven grass can cause minor soft tissue issues, particularly for those inexperienced with softer surface running.”

Barker cautions runners who are new to training on grass not to do too much too soon. “Don’t think you can run barefoot on it right away just because it’s soft. Your plantar fascia might not like it.”

Heather Kampf, a Team USA Minnesota member who has represented the U.S. at the World Indoor Championships, suggests easing into speed workouts on grass, regardless of how fit you might be. “Start low volume. Just because you are stabilizing quite a bit more on grass than on a flat surface, even if you’re fit enough to run 6 x 1 mile on a track, maybe take it back to 4 x 1 mile the first time out, just to get used to it,” she suggests. “Expect times to be a bit slower, and be OK with that, knowing that you’re gaining long-term benefits from running a few seconds slower per interval.”

When To Hit The Soft Stuff

So when is a good time to do speed workouts on grass? Barker says he uses grass workouts during points of the season when his runners aren’t racing as much. “I like to be on grass a lot when endurance and strength are emphasized,” he says. If you’re a marathoner or half marathoner, this can be in the early phases of your training cycle when you are trying to build strength and mileage. If you’re planning to run cross country or shorter road races this fall, doing some of your early summer workouts on grass is a great way to get your body used to the terrain you will be racing on while building early-season strength for more race-specific workouts later in the season.

RELATED: The Importance Of Varying Your Running Surfaces

Give these two grass workouts a try:

Running On Grass: Fartlek

This time-based workout is a favorite of the ZAP Fitness team and can be completed in the early part of your season when trying to hit exact splits during a workouts isn’t as important.

— Warm up with 15-20 minutes of easy running on grass.

— Begin by running 4 minutes as hard as possible, followed by 2 minutes of recovery. Then do 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and finally 1 minute hard, with half the duration of the preceding interval as the recovery between hard repetitions, so 90 seconds after the 3 minutes and 1 minute following the 2 minutes. Perform 2 sets of 4-3-2-1 with 3 minutes recovery in between sets.

— Cool down with 15-20 minutes of easy running on grass.

Running On Grass: Grass Lactate Threshold Repeats

Coach Barker has his Team USA Minnesota athletes doing this workout during their base-training phase in early fall.

— Warm up with 15-20 minutes of easy running on grass.

— Run 4 x 1 mile at your 10K race effort with 1-minute recovery between repetitions. Challenge yourself to build up to 6 x 1 mile by the end of the season. Do this workout on undulating terrain for an additional challenge. Kampf says their 1-mile course is downhill the first half and all uphill on the way back. “It makes you tough,” she says.

— Cool down with 15-20 minutes of easy running on grass.

RELATED: 5 Reasons To Try Trail Running

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.