Treadmill vs Running Outside: Which Is More Effective?

When seasons change, we often change our running routines and exercise methods to get the best out of the conditions regardless of extreme heat or freezing winters.

The comparison between treadmill running and running outside is not a new one. However, we wanted to assess the pros and cons, with half of avid runners swearing by treadmill training and the other half by running outside. 

Which is better?

Treadmill running is gentler on your body when compared to running outside. However, studies have shown that running outside is more energizing than running on a treadmill. You use more effort to run outside, making it more strenuous on your body and giving you a better workout. 

Treadmill running is the best alternative to running outside. It allows you to exercise and keep up your fitness during times that might be difficult for you to go for a run outdoors.

However, it is by no means a substitute for running outside, especially if you are training for a race. But before we throw the good old treadmill down the road, let’s look at some pros and cons of each.

Treadmill vs Running Outside

Treadmill vs running outside

Running outside can be hard on your body yet more effective than treadmill running, but they both have their place in your exercising routine. 

If running outside often is not an option for you, don’t fret; scientific research has proved that you could get the same type of workout out on a treadmill if you set the treadmill to a 1% incline

Setting the treadmill on a 1% incline will account for the wind resistance you get when you run outside. So even on a still day, you would get a slight bit of wind resistance as you run. 

Because the treadmill belt is softer than asphalt or cement, the impact on your legs and joints will be less than running outside – which usually means a faster recovery and less soreness. Although this is easier on your body, it is also vital for you to do resistance training. Luckily you can quickly work in resistance workouts when solely training on a treadmill.

The Pros Of Treadmill Running

When it comes to running, indoors or outdoors, we find two groups of people.

Those who do it to maintain a level of fitness as part of an exercise routine, and those who do it for love of the ‘sport’, which usually goes together with training for races. 

Running In A Controlled Environment

The biggest advantage of treadmill running is that you can train regardless of what the weather is doing. This makes the treadmill extremely accessible, giving you the ease of mind to run every day. 

Treadmill running is also great for keeping up with cardio exercise and logging some extra miles when training for a race. Especially in winter months when conditions like icy roads, lightning, and darkness do not give you enough time to run outside. 

The controlled environment that treadmills offer is something that many people seek and what makes them so popular. Sometimes, it isn’t easy to pace yourself for a few minutes when you run outside. But setting it on the treadmill can be easier and pushes you to do more pacing and interval activities

Setting the treadmill, you are running on to different inclines will also give you a diversified approach together with pacing and interval training, helping you to log those cardio miles you need and train your muscles for racing.

Running To Recover From Injury Or Improving Yourself

Because treadmills offer a steady and even surface, it is the perfect equipment to train on when recovering from an injury. However, outside terrains may be uneven and risk getting reinjured to those in recovery. 

Running on a treadmill is more manageable than running outside. This is because the treadmill belt assists your leg turnover, making running a bit faster than outside.

However, this will affect your pace when you run outdoors, and you will be a bit slower outside than on a treadmill.

A good rule of thumb is to add 5-10% to your best treadmill time to establish what time would be possible running outdoors.

The Cons Of Treadmill Running

Many people find running outside on a treadmill to be monotonous and boring and discover that they feel more energized and get a better workout from running outside.  

While treadmills do not offer the unique experience you get from running outside, and they can provide a desirable social setting when at the gym and you are exercising with a group of people, which can be an encouraging environment to exercise in. 

If you are training for a race, it is crucial to be training outside as much as possible. A treadmill does not allow you to brace the elements when running outside, and this could slow your pace and completely throw you off your target time when race day comes

Although the surface that a treadmill offers is great, it can also impact your pace when running races. This is because asphalt and cement do not provide an even surface. And that’s without considering the performance losses of having to run on trail.

The Pros Of Running Outside

Running outside is fun. Training and exercise of any kind should be enjoyable to at least some degree, and when you are doing it outside, it is good for you.

But why?

Running Outside Is Good For Your Health

Running outside for vitamin D
Running outside is great for topping up your vitamin D

Running outside is not only fun, but you get some much-needed vitamin D – thanks to the sunshine! With so many hours spent inside, behind a computer working, many people don’t get enough vitamin D, and running outside will give you your daily dose. 

Besides the physical health benefit of running outside, running is extremely good for mental health, especially if you are doing it outside. Fresh air is known for reducing stress and anxiety, and you can often feel like you have a clear mind after a run. 

Looking for the famous runner’s high?

You’re more likely to get it on a run outdoors.

Many people have reported feeling energized and getting a better workout when running outside. That is because you are using more muscles to run outside since you have some wind resistance, uneven surfaces, small hills that your body has to accommodate for. 

Although, as mentioned above, you can account for wind resistance by setting your treadmill to a 1% incline, it does not entirely account for your body’s natural ability to work against the wind. Or the constantly changing elevation you would find outside.

It makes sense, right?

As humans, we were born to run outdoors. Not on a piece of machinery in a gym.

Running Outside Gives Versatility And Skills

Running outside is versatile in not only the scenery but also in training. You can improve not only in speed but also in strength and coordination technique and endurance. The uneven sidewalks or roads you run on will efficiently train your coordination and technique without you even noticing it. 

It will embed better form.

Running outside gives you the opportunity to run downhill. This is not only an excellent exercise to do, but it is also crucial for technique and coordination training. 

When you run outdoors, you will have the opportunity to go a bit off road and onto trails. This will enhance your skills and provide the opportunity to improve coordination. 

Running With Activity Trackers

When you wear activity trackers such as a Garmin, Fitbit, or even Apple Watch, running outside is excellent for tracking and uploading your progress. It also helps give you stats in pace, heart rate, cadence, and elevation, which can be helpful to track and compare over time as you train. 

Logging and tracking your progress as you train can give a visual picture of your training regime and can be a good way of encouraging yourself to push through the hard times or challenging hills. 

See more: the best social networks for runners

The Cons Of Running Outside

There are not many cons to running outside, but here are some:

  • Running outside can be dangerous, especially if the route you choose is unsafe and has a high volume of cars passing by. 
  • If it is too dark by the time you get to run in the evenings or even too dark when you get up in the mornings, then it might be better to train on a treadmill.
  • If you have kids at home and no one to look after them while you are gone, but have a treadmill at home, by all means, run on the treadmill. 
  • Some weather is not suitable for running – when the roads are icy or lightning or storms pass through the area. These are hazardous weather conditions to be outside on the road. 
  • Suppose you have had recent injuries and are in an exercise program to regain strength and recover well, it is wiser to train on a treadmill, as noted above in the pros of treadmill running. 

Cross-Training With Treadmills 

Training for a race or marathon can be challenging and requires you to put in the hours and miles to get your cardio and muscle strength up to the task ahead. Additionally, your situation at home or weather seasons could impact your training sessions.

That is why it is essential to know how to train outside and get the best out of your treadmill running days.

If you can, you should try to run two to three days a week outdoors. One of those days should be a long run day, and one or two of the other days should be for shorter distances. 

For the remainder of the week, you can run indoors on a treadmill and combine some other exercises to your routine, too, to help you with your core muscle training. 

See more: the best cardio alternatives to running.

Five Tips For Training On A Treadmill

Use the Treadmill Pre-set Routes 

Treadmills have pre-set routes, including hills, trail running, or a combination of settings to pick from. This will make your treadmill running a little more engaging and help your muscles develop.

Alternatively, you can use your own treadmill-compatible workout apps.

Do Some Interval Training

Interval training is synonymous with running. Including sprints in your workout routine on the treadmill will definitely help with your fitness and cardio. You could try doing High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) on the treadmill. 

  • Start with a slow warm-up jog for 5 to 10 minutes. 
  • Then make six 30-seconds sprints that are 1.5 – 3.0 MPH faster than your usual jogging pace.  
  • Between each sprint, do a 90-second slow recovery jog
  • After the six sets, do a cool-down jog. 

Run For The Distance, Not The Time

When running on a treadmill, we often focus on the time we have been at it or how long we still need to run. But a watched pot never boils, and checking the time is not helpful in any training or exercise routine. 

But by shifting our focus to getting to a certain distance will improve your running capabilities as well as help the time go by.

Experiment With The Incline Settings On A Treadmill

Running hills is one of our favorite things to do. It is great for getting fit and exercises various muscles in your body that wouldn’t otherwise be engaged with a flat workout. Setting the treadmill on different incline percentages will give your treadmill running exercise a boost. 

To mimic the elevation, you get when running outside, try doing the following. 

  • Start with a slow warm-up jog for 5 to 10 minutes 
  • Then run for 1 minute at 0.5% incline
  • After that, run for 1 minute at 2% incline
  • Then back again for a minute at 0.5% 
  • Follow this method until you get to 5% inclination. 
  • If you can repeat this in reverse
  • Follow it up by a cool-down jog for about 5 – 10 minutes. 

Lunge Away On The Treadmill

In any workout, lunges are always a winner. And you can do it on a treadmill, too, that is, if you are not too tall. If you can fit on the treadmill while making lunges, It is a great lower body exercise that will use most of your leg muscles and enhance your treadmill exercise. 

  • Start the treadmill very slow at about 0.5 MPH and let the belt move you back again.
  • Then lunge forward.
  • In pace with the treadmill, bring your back foot to meet your front foot before lunging again.

If you are too tall to fit your treadmill, make a few lunges next to the treadmill as part of your exercise routine. 

The Bottom Line: Any Running Is Good Running

In a perfect world, running outside has benefits that far outweigh a treadmill. Still, considering factors beyond our control, running on a treadmill should be part of your exercise routine if you are a running enthusiast.

Whichever you decide is best for your lifestyle, body, and home situation, do dust off your trainers, get out on the road, or hit the treadmill, and as Nike says, “just do it.” 

Author Profile

Alex Randall

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Alex is the editor at Revel Sports. It was his idea to take our post-club-run chats and build a website out of them. He is responsible for dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s when any of us have something to post. (Basically: it’s all his fault). A ferocious 5K powerhouse on his day, Alex is known for not understanding the meaning of the term ‘negative split‘.
Alex Randall

Revel SPorts Contributor

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