How effective is running on the treadmill vs running outside? Which will be more suited to your personal needs and fitness goals? Read on to find out as we weigh up the pros and cons of each.
Whether you run on a treadmill or run outside, you’ll be getting a great cardio workout. Wherever you do it, running builds stamina, strengthens your legs and core, and burns calories. That said, running on a treadmill and running outside do have some differences. Which will give your training an edge? Here are the pros and cons of running on a treadmill vs running outside to help you decide:
A big plus of running on a treadmill is the fact you can train whatever the weather. Plus, there is less of a motivational barrier to working out. Getting ready and getting outside can be harder than hopping on a treadmill in your own home.
The convenience and reliability of a treadmill may mean you train more often and for longer. The structure and consistency this brings to your workout schedule is great news for your fitness goals!
When you run on a treadmill, you can control your pace and incline. And the machine keeps you on track. Adjusting to a higher speed or incline is easier when the motion of the belt maintains your momentum. Outside, slowing down would be easier, and you might not push yourself as hard.
Being able to run in a controlled environment makes it easier to improve upon your personal bests. You don’t have to worry about the weather or any other distractions, and you have accurate statistics every step of the way.
Treadmill belts are cushioned, so they’re easier on your joints than running outside. If you have any condition that affects your joints or are overweight, treadmill running is a safer option. It puts less stress on your joints and reduces the chance of injury.
Having the ability to watch something on your tablet as you run can keep you entertained while you run. This could help you workout longer.
Running outside is a high impact activity. There’s no cushioning on the road, so your bones get jolted. If your joints are healthy, high impact activity is good for your bones, so long as you don’t overdo it. If you can run comfortably, the stress of road running on your bones builds strength and mass. One study found that running increased bone mass more than resistance training.
Running outside uses more energy than running on a treadmill. Your feet have to grip onto the ground to propel you forwards. You also have to counter wind resistance. The combination of these factors takes more physical effort and activates your muscles more than treadmill running.
When you run outside it’s not necessarily linear, which increases the number of muscles you use. You have to duck and dive to swerve around people, stop at a traffic light or avoid uneven ground. Moving in this unpredictable way keeps your reactions sharp and activates smaller supporting muscles. These supporting muscles may become weak and more injury prone if you only run on a treadmill.
Because you have no space limitations, running outside is also more suited to your natural gait. The size of the running belt can cause some people to shorten their stride.
Running outside can be more motivating because there’s more to see. Interesting urban scenery or the beauty of nature can make running outside more stimulating than treadmill running.
Running on a treadmill is a little easier than running outside for three reasons.
Firstly, the motion of the treadmill belt does some of the work for you. As the belt moves towards you, you are prompted to pick up your feet, so you run faster. Whereas outside, you use more exertion and muscle activation to pick up your feet and propel yourself forward.
Secondly, your body doesn’t have to counter wind resistance when you run on a treadmill. If you are training for a race, it’s best to run outside. You’ll have to work harder when you are running into the wind. The easiest way to prepare for this is by running outside.
Thirdly, the treadmill belt has more cushioning than the road. There is less impact on your joints and less soft tissue conditioning happening in your legs as you run. This makes running easier.
Treadmill running is easier than running outside. But if you want to make treadmill running as hard as running outside, there’s an easy way to achieve this. Research shows that if you set a treadmill to a 1% incline, you replicate the energy usage of running outdoors.
Treadmill running is reliable, convenient and controlled making it easy to train regularly and improve your performance. It’s lower impact, so less chance of injury.
Running outside is less boring for some. It replicates race conditions, activates more muscles, requires more exertion and helps strengthen your bones. But it’s hard to find the motivation to get out there when the weather is awful.
The answer is there are pros and cons to both. Which is why serious runners mix up their training. They benefit from running outside when the weather allows it. And still clock up the miles running on a treadmill inside, the rest of the time.
Ultimately, the more you run, the better runner you’ll become. So having the convenience and reliability of a treadmill to supplement your outdoor running is the ideal solution.
Learn more treadmill benefits and how to choose the machine to meet your needs in our treadmill buying guide.