A debate as old as time (or at least as old as the treadmill) is which is better? The treadmill or running outside. Some say that the treadmill is superior, you have more control, you can get accurate feedback on your running stats, there is little risk of getting run over or chased by an irate Pomeranian.
On the other hand, some people claim that running outside is superior, that treadmills cannot accurately replicate running outside, there’s no wind resistance, no uneven ground, and as such treadmill running is a poor way to prepare for a race. Both forms of running have their benefits, and both have their weaknesses, in this article we will attempt to sort out which one is better for you.
There’s very little use in comparing the two forms of running if you are not clear in what it is you want to achieve. Are you looking to run a race? Or perhaps you want to lose weight? Maybe you want to improve your aerobic fitness? Or you are just looking for a form of exercise that can help you de-stress.
All of these goals are equally valid and each one can be completed using either running method. Some may be more suited to one method but this doesn’t mean that someone employing the other method is “wrong”. Sorry if you were looking for a black and white “This person is stupid” kind of answer here, we’re happy sitting on fences sometimes.
Treadmills are one of the most popular pieces of cardiovascular exercise equipment both at home and in the gyms. Treadmills make it easy to put in a fast, effective workout in less than ideal weather, and many people find it safer and more appealing to run or walk indoors.
For the thousands of health club runners and walkers, the treadmill is a good friend. And even elite athletes will turn to the treadmill on occasion, although it’s more likely they will do the vast majority of their training miles outdoors on tracks, trails or pavement.
What’s Easier Treadmill Or Running Outside
Treadmill Running Pros
Here are reasons you may want to run on the treadmill:
- There are no weather, temperature, or terrain issues.
- You can stop anytime you need or want.
- You can workout while watching television, videos, or online content.
- The smooth, cushioned surface is easier on the joints.
- You will have fewer concerns about personal safety.
- You can have easier access to restrooms and water when needed.
- You don’t need a running partner.
Outdoor Running Pros
You may want these advantages of outdoor running:
- You can run anywhere.
- It’s much more functional in simulating daily activities.
- It provides sport-specific training for road races.
- You get to enjoy the scenery, breathe fresh air, notice changing seasons, and enjoy nature.
- It’s generally more challenging and you may expend more calories.
- It’s likely to be more motivating. You must complete a distance goal and can’t just stop and get off.
- You may have a greater feeling of accomplishment running outside.
- You can take new routes and see something different every day.
- It’s a good way to exercise your dog while getting in your workout.
What’s Easier Treadmill Or Running Outside – Differences in Your Running Workout
In general, athletes can get a similar workout on a treadmill as running outside as long as they maintain the same effort level. This is where there can be a big difference in indoor vs. outdoor running. You can usually judge effort level based on your heart rate or your rating of perceived exertion (RPE).
If, however, you run the same pace on the treadmill as outside on the flat pavement, you will expend less energy on the treadmill. This is due to the lack of wind resistance, terrain changes, and the movement of the treadmill belt to help propel you along. In order to compensate for the treadmill’s momentum, older studies found that simply raising the treadmill incline to at least one percent will better simulate the energy expenditure of walking or running on flat pavement outdoors.
What’s Easier Treadmill Or Running Outside – Who Should Run Outdoors?
If you are training for an outdoor running or walking event, obviously, you will want to train for the race conditions, which means getting outside. It’s fine to do some of your training on the treadmill, but try to do at least 60 percent of it outdoors in order to train your body for the real deal. You’ll be much more prepared for the demands on your muscles and joints by running on varied terrain if you run outdoors. You’ll also become accustomed to running in varied weather conditions and learn what to wear for different temperatures.
Another important consideration is that many treadmills don’t have a decline feature to simulate downhill running, which is essential if you are running an event that has uneven, or varied terrain. Similarly, there aren’t turns on a treadmill, which is another important adaptation your body needs to make if you plan to run outside.
What’s Easier Treadmill Or Running Outside – Who Should Run on a Treadmill?
If your goal is simply to log cardiovascular exercise minutes, a treadmill will allow you do that conveniently. A treadmill is a good solution if you live an area where outdoor running is limited due to weather, lack of nearby safe and pleasant running environments, or lack of a running partner. If you find excuses for not running outdoors due to scheduling or convenience you may be more consistent in getting exercise on a treadmill. Treadmill Or Running Outside
Running Outside vs Treadmill for Weight Loss
Most people who run, do it for fat loss rather than because they want to competitively race. This means that they have no interest in wind-resistance, terrain, or recreating race-like conditions, all they want is to burn calories. In this case, running should be about making you burn as many calories as possible.
Treadmills are great for this as they can force you to work harder than you might otherwise do if you run outside. If you slow down, you fall off! They are also as consistent as you want them to be, and because most gyms are fully air conditioned, the outside temperature is usually ideal for optimal performance.
That being said, if you’re looking at cardio for fat loss, then you probably aren’t running for the love of the sport. In which case your focus should be making running enjoyable enough to keep you going even when you would rather be sitting on the couch. So which is more enjoyable? Well if you live in a sunny, beautiful area with lots of running paths then running outside is going to be pretty enjoyable. Treadmill Or Running Outside
If you live in London and it’s winter, then from personal experience running outside is NOT the most enjoyable way to do things. Finding a treadmill that has a television, or putting on an ipod could make the journey just about fun enough to keep you motivated.
Is Running on a Treadmill Bad for Your Knees?
This last question is asked so often that it deserves its own section of this article. Let’s get this straight, running with bad technique is bad for your knees, regardless of where you are running, or what surface you are running on. If you have excellent technique then you won’t injure yourself on a treadmill no matter how hard you run or how long you spend doing it. Treadmill Or Running Outside
If you have bad technique then running outside will damage your knees, it can also hurt your hips, your hamstrings, your feet and many other parts of your body. Remember to always run with your head up, your chest out, and making sure that your feet and knees are inline throughout the run (don’t point your toes out while keeping your knees facing forward or vice versa). Run on your toes rather than your heels, and keep your body lose rather than tensing the upper body.
Running Outside vs Treadmill for Race Preparation
While most people who start running have body composition in mind, there are a group of people who run for the pure enjoyment of racing. These people are almost always insane and can be found at 10k races, half-marathons, and full-marathons worldwide. In all seriousness running for competitive reasons is not only an enjoyable pursuit, but it will also help you with weight loss – making it a doubly worthwhile exercise. Treadmill Or Running Outside
Now it would probably be fair to say that competitive treadmill racing has not really become a thing as of yet (though who knows what the future will hold). So most races are performed outside on roads and through fields/forests. Running outside is not something that you can really recreate on a treadmill for a number of reasons.
The first reason is wind-resistance or even wind-assistance. Running into a gale force wind can make your run very difficult indeed, and you definitely want to practice running in these conditions if you are preparing for a race. Another factor that should be considered is variable terrain, a treadmill has a smooth belt that never changes, whereas real roads can have potholes, slippery surfaces, sticky mud, or even snow if you’re lucky!
Finally there are inclines and declines (hills) that can make a huge difference when running. These can be recreated on treadmills, but only if you consciously do so. In truth most treadmills have the ability to recreate a stiff incline, but almost none can recreate a decline. Even the ones that can, only offer a couple of percent. This is not the same as running down a steep hill with nothing to hold on to. Treadmill Or Running Outside
So as far as race preparation goes, we have one clear winner here and that’s road racing. But it’s not quite as simple as all that, if you look at a lot of successful amateur (and even professional) runners you’ll see that they tend to mix a lot of outside running with occasional speed work on a treadmill.
This means that the majority of their running, the long distances, are performed outside, but they perform their speed work on a treadmill where they can measure their pace, rely on flat unvarying surfaces, and get accurate time.