Last updated on August 24th, 2021
If you are reading this article it is clear that your mind is filled with a lot of confusion about treadmill vs outdoor running. If you are a beginner, you may wonder whether it is worth investing in a treadmill or not.
And, you may have a series of questions in your mind:
Which one you should go for? Is running on a treadmill equivalent to outside? Do you burn more calories on the treadmill or running outside? Is road running or on a treadmill better for your knees?
Don’t think that you are the only one who is in this dilemma. This FAQ: treadmill vs outdoor running is the most often asked question on the internet and social media.
The Infographic: Treadmill vs Outdoor Running
To help you make the right decision to choose between treadmill and road running, I have designed this infographic taking several pieces of research and various factors which would clear all your confusion. You can reach the wisest conclusion as per your lifestyle and workout needs.
(Click infographic to enlarge.)
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Advantages of Running on Treadmill
A treadmill is a very basic and popular type of fitness equipment that enables you to exercise at home.
It saves you from the daily hustle of going outside for a run on the road. Therefore you become more active and burn more calories.
1. Making Health is Easier With a Treadmill
Several pieces of research showed people who hated treadmills could sometimes get into them because they are helping in their busy schedules.
You can work out anytime on a treadmill during the day whenever you get 15-20 minute intervals.
2. The Treadmill is an Awesome Substitute
If you can’t go outside for road running due to weather and rain, the treadmill is an awesome substitute.
If it’s late at night, and you don’t want to get a workout out, it’s certainly better to work out on the treadmill than running in the dark.
3. You can Measure Your Progress
A modern treadmill provides many tracking features and pre-sets workout programs by trainers. So, you can measure your progress easily.
4. Useful for Busy People
Parents find it extremely helpful to use a treadmill because they need to be close to their families.
If you are a parent, you can watch your kids most mornings and still do your workouts and spend time with them.
5. You can Make Treadmill Running the Same Effort as Running Outside
Some studies proved running flat outside burn the same energy as running at a 2-per cent incline on a treadmill.
Therefore, by setting the treadmill to a 2-per cent incline, you can make treadmill running the same effort as running outside.
6. Treadmill Running is Safe
You prevent yourself from road running injuries by running on a treadmill.
7. Treadmills can Help You Run Faster
If you run a 7mph mile, but if you set the treadmill at 7.5mph, you’re forced to run faster and you are forced to keep up.
8. Treadmill Improves Speed Work
You can slow down because of ground resistance or other turnovers while running outdoors on the road or hills. During training, these things should not impact your pace. And here the treadmill always wins.
Treadmill runs can improve speed work overall. If you want to run and maintain a certain mileage, use the speed of a treadmill to start slow, explore treadmill interval training, and then eventually build up to the results you want.
9. Always Consider Treadmill For a Bigger Goal
Experts strictly recommend If you’re training for a marathon or a big goal, you should consider using a treadmill to focus on pace.
10. Extra Features
Some treadmills allow slight downhill grades, once you turn it on, the belt is flat and it can only be raised.
11. It’s Easier to Run on a Treadmill
A treadmill has a smooth, flat belt that continually moves around as you walk or run.
On the treadmill, it’s easier to run. The belt moves under you and there is no wind countering to your body.
Theoretically, you could jump up and down on a treadmill and it would record that you’re running at whatever speed the belt is moving.
Disadvantages of Running on Treadmill
1. Physiological Difference between Treadmill vs. Outdoor running
According to Richard T. Cotton, MA, national director of certification for the American College of Sports Medicine, there is a physiological difference between treadmill running and running or jogging over a path.
Treadmill running has some limitations here.
2. The Treadmill doesn’t Give You Real-World Experience
If you are preparing especially for a marathon, running only on the treadmill doesn’t give you real-world experience. You can max the treadmill up to 10 per cent, but even that is nothing like taking a hill.
It’s a bad idea not to incorporate hill training into your run if you are training for a race or a big goal.
3. You Tend to Overestimate the Pace at the Treadmill
According to a Singapore study, on a treadmill, you tend to overestimate the pace at which you are going. You are slower, even though you think you are going just as fast.
The scientists say this is probably because while running indoors you don’t get the same visual cues.
Advantages of Outdoor Running
1. Lower stress levels
Studies on Shinrin-yoku (a movement called “Forest Bath” in Japan) have found people who walk or jog in the forest have lower stress levels, pulse rates, and blood pressure.
Because stress hormones are lower in outdoor exercises. Lastly, there’s the mood-boosting effect of sunshine.
2. Getting a More Well-Rounded Workout
When you go for a road running outside, you’re paying attention to changing terrain underfoot.
Thus, you’re stimulating the muscles in your feet and legs in a different way and getting a more well-rounded workout for your legs and ankles.
3. Real-world experience
On the other hand, if you run on a road, most of the time it’s curved, so you’re tilted, always running with one foot lower than the other.
Exercise physiologist Michael Bergeron, PhD, a fellow at the American College of Sports Medicine says that real-world experience enhances neuromuscular control and balance.
When you run outside, you will have to deal with uphill, and you also have the experience of an occasional downhill.
4. You will Find Yourself Running Faster Outside
Researchers find that often you will find yourself running faster outside than you do on treadmills at the same level of exertion. But you won’t feel that you are working as hard as you’d feel on the treadmill.
Outside resistances are there to make you run slow and you feel slower too but still, your speed is fast.
5. Outside is Tougher But More Rewarding
Running outdoors create stress in the body in a miscellany of ways like air resistance, water, sun and heat, and hills.
It makes you work harder. Outside is tougher but more rewarding.
Disadvantages of Outdoor Running
1. Find an Excuse to Give Up on Your Fitness Routine
In road running, you will always find an excuse to give up on your fitness routine and prioritize your work. Consequently, it will make you more physically inactive which isn’t good for your health.
Practically, a parent can’t leave the kids unattended and go out for a run. Eventually, you compromise with your health.
2. Road Running Pose the Risks People Often Forget
Running outdoors on the road risks include getting hit by a car, rolling an ankle on uneven ground, knee injuries, even causing sun damage.
3. Outdoor Running is Harder Compared to Treadmill
Running outside into the wind will feel harder to complete the target because the pace of 7.5 is not set here and you are running against air resistance.
Road running forces your legs to create the turnover. With these kinds of resistance and variables, running outside becomes harder than tackling miles on a moving belt. It makes you work harder.
When you run on a track outdoors, there is hardly a smooth terrain. You will have to deal with uneven ground, potholes, rocks and any number of other obstacles on the road. This holds, especially when you run through trails in the woods.
Final Thoughts on Treadmill vs Outdoor Running
1. Depend Upon Your Goals
Treadmill vs. outdoor running, which you should choose really depends upon your goals. If you primarily want to run for your cardiovascular health rather than training for a marathon, treadmill running is just fine.
- Try to add 1-2 outdoor runs once in a while and you’ll be fine.
- But, If you’re are preparing for a bigger goal like 5K, running on a treadmill only is never sufficient.
2. Treadmill vs Outdoor running: Mix It Up
- Running on a treadmill or outdoors with an effective training plan can improve both your speed work and endurance. You should add both types of running to your training whether you are doing it as your daily cardio or training for a big goal.
- If you have a goal to run in a race, such as a 5K, your best bet is to run outside. Your body will get acclimated to the terrain and it will not be a shock to your system on race day.
3. The Best Advice on Treadmill vs Outdoor Running
If you’re starting, pick the kind of running that you enjoy and which you’re likely to stick to. If that means heading to the nearest treadmill just remember to vary the speed and the incline.
It’s never a bad idea to run outside, but you should especially do so if you’re training for a race in an area with unpredictable weather (see: Boston Marathon 2018), then it can be significantly beneficial to do some training runs in unpleasant conditions to boost your mental strength and test your gear.
If your only intention being to meet and maintain your cardio fitness goals, a motorized or a manual treadmill may be all that you need. By pairing the exercise with an accurate pulse monitor, you can maintain your fitness very well while keeping it well.
4. FAQ: Treadmill vs Outdoor Running
There is a question asked by beginners very often that “If I’m very new to running, should I start on a treadmill first or go outside for my runs to make most out of it?
The answer is that both are fine. If you’ve got a busy schedule or kids at home, then using a treadmill first is a good idea. This way, you can start with shorter workouts and mix it with jogging outside when you got time.
Some experts encourage them to start outdoors first, and then slowly introduce themselves to the treadmill later. But others also recommend that you can also start with the treadmill and then go outside.
It’s really up to you. Mixing it up is always the best idea.
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Conclusion on Treadmill vs Outdoor Running
In addition to considering daily lifestyle factors, I have also added several pieces of research as examples to clear your confusion on the topic.
I tried to cover all the possible advantages and disadvantages of treadmill vs. outdoor running. I hope the post has enabled you to take the right decision by now and I have succeeded in my efforts.
Be sure to take care of yourself and your family!
Plus, if you liked the article, share it with someone you care about and motivate them to live a healthy lifestyle!