When it comes to running, there’s often a divide between those that prefer to run indoors and those that love to get outdoors.
Some running traditionalists can’t stand the monotony of treadmill running, while others can’t find the motivation to pick up the pace without manual controls in front of them and love the accuracy of doing a structured workout on a treadmill.
So what is the difference between running on a treadmill and running outside? Is one better or more effective than the other?
The short answer is that both methods of running have their pros and cons, and that there’s a place for both types when it comes to getting fitter and faster.
Here’s a more in-depth breakdown of each:
- No weather or temperature constraints – On the cold and rainy winter days or the hot and sweaty summer days, running outside can sometimes be the last thing you want to be doing. Having the ability to still get in a good treadmill workout on a bad weather day means you’re not missing out on any training.
- You can control your pace – when running outside it can be difficult to maintain a consistent pace. On a treadmill you have better control on how fast you are going and can easily track your distance. This is particularly useful if you’re coming back from an injury and need to stick to a particular speed, or if you’ve just started running and need that extra push to keep you going.
- Hills and incline training – if you’re training for an event that has different hills and inclines you’ll be able to replicate these on a treadmill with the incline function. Some of the more advanced treadmills will allow you to program in different race tracks, allowing you to replicate the exact course you’re training for.
- Speed work – Because treadmill running is easier, it can be a good tool for speed work. Use the treadmill to help you run faster by speeding up the pace for short intervals and then slow it down for recovery intervals. This is a very convenient way to get in some speed work or tempo runs in a controlled setting.
- Easier on the joints – The belt of the treadmill is more forgiving than the hard pavement. Running on a treadmill reduces impact and is easier on the body, so is perfect for someone coming back from injury.
- Convenience – If you have a treadmill at home you can run on your own time, in bad weather, late at night, or when you need to keep an eye on the kids. If you’re at the gym, you can easily combine a run and resistance session in the one place. You can also listen to music, watch TV or read a magazine while working out!
- It can be boring – the number one disadvantage to treadmill running would have to be its boredom factor. Even with music in or the TV on, running continuously in the same spot with the same view can get tedious.
- You can’t go downhill – while a treadmill can be great for hill training if you don’t have hills nearby, you can’t replicate going downhill which you need to strengthen the anterior tibialis muscles at the front of your legs.
- You can’t change direction – similarly, you can’t train for any change of direction on a treadmill and thereby limit your ability to improve your lateral agility.
- Less energy burned – the difference can be reduced by setting the machine at a minimum of 1% incline, but there will still be a difference. Researchers believe this comes down to wind resistance, obstacles, and how the runner propels themselves.
- Run anywhere, anytime – running outside is free and can be done just about anywhere. You aren’t restricted by gym schedules or availability of machines, simply just go out and run!
- More bang for your buck – when running outside, you’re getting more muscle activation because your feet have to grab the ground to propel you. You also activate more muscles when you’re running outside because you don’t have to run in a strictly linear pattern (think about dodging people on the sidewalk or hopping over curbs).
- Better for bone density – running on hard surfaces such as packed dirt or pavement forces the body to increase bone density. While one of the benefits of running on a treadmill is that it’s easier on the joints, it also prevents the body from triggering processes that ultimately lead to better bone density. Running outside can help improve bone health, which is especially important for female runners.
- Mimics race conditions – if you’re training for a race, you need to be doing your km’s outdoors as it’s the only way to properly mimic race conditions.
- Mental health benefits – Exposure to fresh air and sunlight are proven mood-boosters for most people. There aren’t too many activities that match the endorphins you get post an outdoor run.
- Undesirable terrain – if the area you live in is hilly, running outdoors can be a bit of a challenge. Similarly if you are wanting to run hills but don’t have any nearby you won’t be able to simulate hills.
- Safety concerns – some runners don’t live near accessible and safe places to run. Other runners may not feel comfortable running at night or during high-traffic times, making indoor running a much more suitable option.
There are pros and cons to both running indoors on a treadmill and outdoors in nature. If you’re just looking to improve your cardiovascular fitness, the treadmill is a great option for doing so. If you’re training for a race, you’ll benefit more from running outside.
Ultimately it is a personal choice, so go with whatever one will make you get out for a run more!