Ask any runner if they prefer running on a treadmill or running outside, and most of them will have a strong opinion on the matter. Some runners who prefer to stick to tradition can’t stand how boring treadmill running is; whereas others can’t find the motivation to pick up the pace without manual controls in front of them and love the benefits of doing a structured workout indoors.

There is no clear cut answer to whether it is better to run on a treadmill or outside. Both have their pros and cons, and ultimately it comes down to personal preference. That being said, both can help you get stronger and faster. It is recommended that you do both treadmill and outdoor running to get the most benefits.

Is Running on a Treadmill Easier?

The level of effort required to get the same workout from running on a treadmill or outside is the same, but “effort” is a subjective measure.

The effort is based on your heart rate and how “hard” you consider the activity to be.

The amount of effort that is perceived to be involved in an activity will generally be less when done indoors as opposed to outdoors in bad weather, even if more calories are burned or the heart rate is higher indoors. On a hot day, running up a hill may be perceived as more difficult than running at the same incline and distance on a treadmill.

If you compare the benefits of running outdoors to running on a treadmill, outdoor running is almost always better. You burn more calories running outdoors because of the terrain, weather, wind, etc., and also because the treadmill does a lot of the work for you.

Running Outside

There are many benefits to taking your run outside instead of running indoors on a treadmill, such as being outdoors with nature or people watching.

Pros

It’s Inexpensive

You can enjoy running outdoors without having to purchase a gym membership or a treadmill. You aren’t constricted by a gym’s schedule or the availability of machines.

You Can Continue Training Even When Traveling

If you’re looking to explore a new destination, hotels can often suggest nearby routes that are perfect for running. Just be sure to take safety precautions and use a pre-planned route.

It Provides Sport-Specific Training for Road Races

Running outdoors on different types of terrain will prepare your muscles and joints for a race. You can train on a track, road, or trail to closely mimic the conditions of your race. Running in different weather conditions will help you adapt to changes on the race day. You will also know when to put in extra effort when faced with obstacles like elevation.

It Allows You to Enjoy Nature and Breathe Fresh Air

Working out in nature has been proven to be more enjoyable than being inside and you’re able to see more when you’re covering more ground.

It Can Be Motivating

There are many benefits to running outdoors, including the motivation it provides. It can also be fun to set distance goals and then complete them. Even if you don’t feel like running, if you’re doing an out-and-back route, you’ll still have to run the whole way back to where you started.

It Burns More Calories

The wind resistance outside means you’ll have to work a bit harder to maintain your pace, resulting in a greater calorie burn.

Benefits of Running Outside

While it may be hard to beat the appeal of running outdoors, it also expends more energy than running on a machine.

The muscles are working harder when you run outside because you have to generate more force to move your body forward, while the treadmill provides a more consistent and easy pace.

A study showed that people run the same whether on a treadmill or outside. However, “running outside is more suited to a natural gait cycle,” says King. This is because people are not limited by the parameters of the treadmill when running outside. Some people may shorten their stride when on a treadmill.

You’ll also engage more muscles when you run outside because you don’t have to run in a perfectly straight line—for example, dodging people on the sidewalk or jumping over curbs.

There is a risk of injury if you only run inside as certain muscles could become weak and de-conditioned. This is because when you do start running outside again, your body isn’t used to the change and may not be able to cope, leading to an injury.

Despite how difficult running on the pavement may be, it is beneficial for your bones. In fact, research from the University of Missouri suggests that it may be even more beneficial than resistance training. According to King, running on a stiff surface, such as asphalt or concrete, provides more ground reaction forces, which strengthens bones more than a treadmill. This is because treadmills are designed to absorb ground reaction forces in order to save your joints from the impact of running.

If you want to be an outdoor runner, you need to be smart about strength training your legs. This is because outdoor running is a repetitive motion with a lot of ground reaction forces. According to King, most runners lack the requisite strength in their legs to run outside so often. Therefore, it is important to develop base strength.

When to Run Outside

You should go for a run outside, especially if you’re training for a race. Don’t let bad weather stop you.

Nothing beats running outside in terms of weather and environment, King says. She imagines running with the wind at her back, which would make running feel easier. But running into the wind would feel harder. Running on a treadmill cannot replicate that feeling.

Treadmills typically offer incline and decline options, but it can be difficult to find one that closely simulates the gradients of a road or trail.

According to King, training in the environment that the race will take place is how your body adapts. This means that if you are training for a race in an area with unpredictable weather, it can be beneficial to do some training runs in inclement conditions to build mental strength and test your gear.

How can a beginner start running outside?

The many benefits of running make it an effective way to add movement to your routine and burn calories. You can do it virtually anywhere and you don’t need much gear.

If you’re just starting out with running, try a run/walk method that alternates between short running intervals and walking. With practice, you’ll be able to run for longer intervals without stopping. For more tips, check out a beginner’s guide to running.

Treadmill Running

Treadmills are popular because they offer many advantages.

No Weather or Temperature Constraints

Pros

No Weather or Temperature Constraints

Running outside in bad weather is uncomfortable and can be dangerous. You can avoid these problems by running on a treadmill inside.

If you’re running at home or the gym, the weather won’t be a problem. You also don’t have to worry about sunscreen, over- or under-dressing, and being caught far from home without the right gear.

You Can Simulate (Some) Race Conditions

If you’re preparing for a marathon that has a lot of hills, you can run hills on the treadmill, even if there isn’t a hilly training route nearby. Plan your treadmill hills based on the course of the marathon, and use the treadmill runs to test out race day clothing and gear.

You Can Control Your Pace

Treadmill training can be helpful for those recovering from an injury because it is easy to control both mileage and pace. Additionally, one can stop at any time if needed. However, the treadmill can also be used to challenge oneself by keeping a consistent pace.

It’s Convenient

Home treadmills are a great way to stay in shape and get your daily exercise, even when the weather is bad, it’s late at night, or you need to keep an eye on your children.

You Can Multi-Task

Headphones are safe to use on a treadmill, allowing you to listen to music or podcasts. You can also use them to watch TV or read a magazine or book.

It’s Easier on the Joints

Treadmills offer a softer surface to run on than pavement or roads, resulting in less stress on the ankles and knees. Additionally, running at an incline on a treadmill builds strength and endurance in the same way as running hills would outside. However, you don’t have to worry about running downhill on a treadmill, which can be tough on the body.

You Can Run Alone and at Any Hour

Indoor treadmill running eliminates the dangers posed by exercising outdoors, such as weather hazards and being alone.

Benefits of Treadmill Running

The treadmill can be used on days when it is not possible to run outside, such as when it is raining, cold, or windy.

Treadmill training gives you complete control over your environment. You can set the pace, incline, interval, and recovery. For example, it is easier to get used to running at certain speeds when there is a belt moving under your feet.

The feeling of running on a treadmill will eventually transfer to running outdoors, making it easier to maintain a pace without constantly checking your watch. “Running on a treadmill is also more motivating than running outside by yourself,” Samuela says. This makes it easier to train for conditions—such as hills—that might not be easy to recreate depending on where you live.

Although you cannot perfectly duplicate outdoor running while running on a treadmill, research has shown that selecting a 1 percent grade more accurately reflects outdoor running at particular speeds. A separate study found that there is no difference in VO2 max levels when running on a treadmill as opposed to running outdoors. While running outside may feel more difficult, the physical changes happening in your body are the same.

It is beneficial to your health to take it easy on your joints every once in a while, as this will allow you to maintain good bone health for a longer period of time. People who are constantly putting impact on their joints, such as runners, are more likely to deal with overuse injuries. Running on a more forgiving surface, such as a padded belt, is much better for your health than running on a hard surface.

When to Use a Treadmill

For example, if it’s raining, sleeting, hailing, or snowing outside, the weather can make it difficult to run safely. The treadmill is a great option for those who want to keep up their cardio or for regular outdoor runners who want to run in certain situations where it may be difficult or dangerous to run outside.

 

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