Grass vs. Synthetic Turf

I know there is some debate about training on grass and I have also heard various thoughts about training on synthetic surfaces, especially “plastic grass” or field turf. What are the advantages/disadvantages of a sports team, like football, practicing on one or both of these surfaces through a season(training/workouts- 2 months, season/practices - 4 months)? Currently, the team I am associated with conducts all GPP workouts on the synthetic turf and splits time practicing 1/3 grass and 2/3 synthetic. Any thoughts…?

We’re having a constantly ongoing debate about the virtues of synthetic turf versus grass here in Norway, especially with regards to soccer. The consencus seems to be that swithing often from one to the other (like several times a week) makes the players more inury prone but that using synthetic turf exclusively (like more and more teams do) doesn’t cause the same problems. Some teams have reported fewer injuries after switching to artificial turf.

There are two issues from my experience:

  • Artificial surfaces are harder on the body than real grass. Whether it is cleats sticking in the the surface or the lack of shock absorption provided by these surfaces. Modern grass turf surfaces have a very hard gravel base that contains about 3 to 4 inches of a rubber granule/sand mix on top. If not properly groomed regularly, the turf can get very hard.

  • Artificial surfaces allow for more and more frequent training sessions throughout the year. Grass needs to be maintained more frequently (mowed, watered, replaced) and can be closed off due to inclement weather (rain) resulting in less practice and playing time.

I still see (anecdotally) a higher incidence of knee injuries, lower leg stress injuries and groin/pubic injuries due to the prevalence of more and more of these surfaces.

i can see what you mean by turf field being harder than real grass, but i have a few thoughts that go along with that

i find that especially here in vancouver, and im sure numbertwo has seen this, that two things are prevelant on the grass fields. Soccer and mud. This rips the fields apart causing many divets and uneven surfaces. Would you still recommend grass over turf in this situation?

in warmer areas were the areas are better groomed as shown in the photos with bolt in the other thread, i would see grass as a much better option,

what about in the case of dirt fields. Are those ever a good option if a grass area is not avail?

Isn’t turf/field turf still softer than a track?

you don’t play soccer on a track though.

Yes, thanks D-Nasty. My observations are strictly with soccer and American football where cleats are used. Having said that, my track athletes do all their tempo on artificial fields.

I had the opportunity watch a full installation of field turf at our facility. I trained athletes on the track while they were installing the field over 8 weeks. It started with full excavation of the grass field to putting in drainage to laying down a thick gravel base to stitching in the field and finally putting on the sand/rubber mixture. It was obvious to me that the base was quite hard packed and durable - much harder than would be under a grass field.

And the softness of the field depends on:

  • Amount of sand and rubber granules that are used.
  • Frequency of raking to loosen up the mixture and undo all the compression.

Depending on the type of fake grass blades they use, I still see athletes catching on the grass with their cleats - more so than real grass. The type of cleat makes a difference as well. Too long a cleat is bad, as well as those “blade” style soccer cleats.

In team sports (lateral movements) synthetic is a much better option however for sprinters training on grass is safer. Most sprint work is on straight line or curve and the risk associated with team sports does not effect sprinters.

Those are great points, I never thought about the ground being packed, as I dont think ive ever seen the turf at the track ever being racked. So I guess the longer a turf field has been put in, it would get harder. Great post.

I also coach in the Northwest. Most of our grass soccer/football fields have been replaced with field turf. I would rather have sprinters on this than natural grass, because, in our area, grass is so rutted and wrecked that I think it is dangerous. A good grass area is best, but we simply don’t have it (unless we could sneak onto a golf course). The field turf inside our track is raked occasionally and is relatively new, so it is easier on the sprinters than our track. Now if we could just get those pesky soccer players off the field…

The US unlike Jamaica and Australia doesn’t seem to have as many good grass fields.

I think our biggest problem in US is excessive use of the fields. What it comes down to is this: too many soccer players for the number of fields, so all fields are in use all the time and never get a chance to recover. In summer, soccer use goes down, but then baseball moves onto the same fields.

A linebacker was onced asked “do you prefer grass or astroturf” he replied “hey man I aint ever smoked astroturf before”. :wink: On a serious note, I figure artificial is better than an uneven natural surface with the risk of spraining an ankle. :slight_smile:

If the weather and conditions permit, nothing matches a well tended grass field but it’s tough around here with our climate and budget cutbacks.

Arrggh! Synthetic… They have just closed the track at Santa Monica College (where I train at) for the summer because the once fine grass field is being replaced by the fake stuff. We have beautiful sunny weather year round and the powers that be have decided to save a few pence on water and supposed maintenance costs. Santa Monica High School, which is 5 blocks from my place, seems to be undergoing a similar digging up though I haven’t been able to determine if it’s undergoing the same fate. Two tracks within a mile of each other and I can’t touch them until September. I guess the football and soccer teams will be experiencing an increase in medical and insurance costs in the coming years not to mention the total amount to convert the fields. A few misguided souls (i.e. the administrators, city inspectors, lawyers and the contractors) are reaping the financial benefits at the expense of common sense and sanity. The bottom line is that the ‘tracksters’ are always pushed to the sidelines when it comes to determining a responsible course of action involving other entities.

Well, I cannot comment on the quality of the grass field at Santa Monica College, but I used to coach very high level youth soccer and I can tell you that Field Turf (not Astroturf) is a very good playing surface and far better than a poorly maintained, overused grass field. As for them doing the work in the summertime, well that is fairly obvious given that the places you mention are both schools. If you think that the fake grass field will not be as good for track practice as real grass, well you may be right, but they do not put in either one for track – they put in tracks for track.

You make some good points concerning Field Turf. SMC also has a state of the art Field Turf soccer-only field at Santa Monica Airport next to it’s extended campus another mile away. I guess they figured it was easier to Turf everything. I can personally verify that the grass that was on the football field inside of the track was as plush as any field out there. Like I stated previously, our city receives incredible weather almost everyday of the year. With conditions like this, sun and natural grass are made for each other. They even watered and mowed the patch until this past weekend before it’s demise. The track itself was installed for the 1984 Olympics as one of the training sites. Still looking brand new, it has been very nicely maintained and reconditioned throughout the past 24 years. I guess everything should be synthesized for the 21st century.

Your grass field sounds incredible. Aside from your beautiful weather, your key must be avoiding overuse. We have not mastered that concept in Seattle. When we combine overuse with a great deal of rain, we get rutted, dangerous grass fields. Everything here is being converted to Field Turf and I think that is optimal for us.

Has anyone used ash paths e.g. dissused railway paths or cinder/gravel tracks when grass has been unavailable. And was it successful or did you encounter injury problems.

Would that not be quite an uneven surface, so a possibility of sprains etc??