Treadmills vs. Running Outside: Which is Better For You?

Treadmills vs Running Outside

It’s the great faceoff: treadmills vs. running outside. Which one is better for you? Of the two, what’s more effective? Most folks say that running on a treadmill is infinitely easier than running outdoors. Could this be true? And what are the benefits of running on treadmills vs. running outside?

What are the Pros and Cons of Treadmill Running?

What could happen if you try running on a treadmill? You might get extremely bored. It might be hard to balance. There could be someone on the treadmill and you have to wait. All these could be things you face when deciding to run on a treadmill. But first, let’s examine the dynamics of a treadmill workout.

A treadmill helps you move your legs in a forward motion. The motion of the belt naturally propels you ahead in contrast to when you’re running outside, in which case you’ll soon discover that the ground does not assist you by moving underfoot. Instead, you have to move your mass completely under your own power. Whereas you may be able to run at a 6.0 mile per hour pace on the treadmill, you may find that type of pace does not transfer over seamlessly to the street.

Many treadmills also have a bit of “give,” meaning the platform you land on should be slightly flexible and able to absorb some of the shock. This is great for those with sensitive or achy joints, bad knees, hips, ankles, or feet. Since the treadmill can provide a bit of a cushion, it offers a level of “protection” over the beating your body can take by repeatedly landing on the pavement.

Another big treadmill advantage is the fact that it’s immune to weather conditions. It pretty much doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, raining or snowing, your treadmill provides you with a comfortable indoor running environment.

A treadmill can be a great foray, however, into running outdoors. Not only can you condition your cardiovascular system by doing intervals on the treadmill, you can also vary the incline of the belt. This will allow for aerobic conditioning, prepping you for a harder workout in the future on the road.

Other advantages of running indoors include:

  • A more structured workout—with a variety of controls at your fingertips, it’s easy to track your progress and progressively increase the difficulty of your training, whereas with outdoor running, you can only track your mileage and wear a heartrate monitor. So, if you’re a stickler for accuracy, it may be easier to monitor your progress indoors.
  • Less boredom—yes, there’s also the chance that you may be less bored running on the treadmill. If you run next to a friend, you overlook a gym floor where you can people watch, or you have some big screen televisions set up, you may actually find treadmill running more engaging than running that same old trail repeatedly.
  • Running on a treadmill is a great way to break into the sport of outdoor running. There are many programs, like the Couch to 5K program, which can help you build up your endurance first on a treadmill and later help you safely transition over to outdoor running. Once you build up your aerobic capacity and get your legs acclimated to running—e.g., the motion, speed, and gait—moving it outdoors will be a breeze.
  • Easier on the joints—due to the flexible nature of most belts, running on the treadmill can be beneficial, especially if you have aches, pains, or injuries.
  • Safety—sometimes it’s just not safe to run outside (for example, it may be dark outside, it could be slick, or you may not feel comfortable running through your neighborhood). A treadmill culls the excuses and can provide a comfortable, secure environment.

What are some of the disadvantages of a treadmill run? Well, once you get past the boredom, you might realize you can only run on a flat surface or uphill, rarely downhill, and never side to side. (There is at least one exception to that: the Nordic track treadmill does have a downhill option.) Without a downhill facet of your run, it’s impossible to truly simulate the great outdoors.

By the way, experts say that if you set your treadmill to a one percent incline, you’ll feel a similar level of exertion to running on pavement.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Running Outside?

  • You might not know how fast (or slowly) you’re going. Because running outside doesn’t necessarily allow for all the same measurements a treadmill might accommodate, you may have trouble keeping the same pace throughout your run.
  • More boredom—this may be a matter of personal opinion, especially if you love the great outdoors. But, if you’re on a treadmill with no scenery to speak of, there is a good chance monotony may set in. (Though it may be a great time to meditate as you move.)
  • More taxing on your muscles—there is a certain “hardening” of the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments that comes with running outdoors. Because you’re repeatedly hitting the ground with force (depending on your running surface), your body learns to compensate for that force over time by becoming stronger.
  • Additionally, you may not always be running on a perfectly smooth and level surface. Chances are good you may hit some hills, angles, and different planes. This means you’re going to have to engage additional muscles to stabilize your body as you run, and that’s a big deal when it comes to overall running benefits.
  • Studies show that you tend to use your muscles and limbs slightly differently when you run outdoors than you would on a treadmill. Treadmill runners tend to run with more of a flat foot placement, which can lead to Achilles heel issues down the road. That said, the typical gait and movement of a road warrior can often lead to knee injuries.
  • Studies do show that running outside also has more benefits in other areas besides just the physical than treadmill running. If you have great weather, chances are good you’ll benefit from the sunshine and extra vitamin D. Add to that the fresh air and proven mental health benefits, and you have a potent recipe for reduced stress, depression, tension, and anxiety. Some folks even say they get a greater boost in energy from a run outside than they do from your typical treadmill run.
  • You can also discover new areas, try out new trails, run with groups of friends, or join a running club. The ideas are many and you might even find yourself having fun.

Both running inside and out have unique benefits and drawbacks. Do you have to decide between the two: treadmills vs. running outside? Not at all! In fact, in may be a fantastic idea to work both types of training into your regimen.