Running is one of the most common forms of cardio, but is it better to run outside than it is on a treadmill? Is it the same, or is one easier than the other? There are some benefits and disadvantages to both. Here’s why.
A treadmill is very convenient, especially during colder or humid seasons. You are able to run all year round and cannot use the weather as an excuse. However, a treadmill does not provide interesting scenery, meaning the treadmill may have that “hamster wheel” feel to it.
With treadmills always being indoors, you don’t have to worry about the wind resistance or rain, which can make running on a treadmill a little easier. You’re never going to struggle for grip like you would on wet grass. You also have the option to increase and decrease inclines, which is not under your control when running outdoors.
If you’re training to race outdoors though, I wouldn’t suggest making treadmill running habitual. You can program a treadmill to give you an awesome workout, but it’s harder to learn pace and control as you’re constantly and consistently running on a belt without the environmental factors one should take into consideration.
As mentioned before, with outdoor running, you get a lot more environmental factors that play a part in your workout. With hills and uneven terrains, it’s more likely that your feet could land badly, leading to a strain or sprain. If you’re strictly all about the treadmill, then your body is used to having every step being consistently even.
The tendons in your ankle adapt to the variety of landings when running outside. There are sharp turns, uneven pavement and/or trails (woods, hiking, etc.), and curbs to say the least that will have to be accounted for that aren’t when you’re on a treadmill. To avoid an injury, it is best to slowly transition back outside if you’ve been training indoors for so often. To do this, you may split your running up during the week by starting off with one or two runs outdoors with the rest still indoors. This will eventually help your tendons and muscle memory adapt to the differences without putting too much strain on your body.
It’s better to vary your movement to avoid joint and ligament damage. This can happen when running at the same speed, at the same incline for too long. Outdoor runners naturally vary their steps due to the changes in terrain. Most runners also find that their pace on the treadmill isn’t the same as their pace when on the road. This is because the belt on the treadmill makes it easier to run faster by assisting leg turnover. Without the wind resistance, breathing patterns may also differ when outdoors rather than running indoors.
Take Home Message
When really comparing, running on the treadmill is the same as running outdoors because the VO2 max is the same. That means they’re both just as effective. Mechanics of your running stride is only altered slightly differently, where as a treadmill runner will use more of their quads to “push off” of the belt and outdoor runners use more of their hamstrings to typically lift their leg behind them. With that being said, I believe it really comes down to personal preference.
One might think that running on a treadmill is boring, without having any scenery to look at. Without much to look at, it may feel discouraging when you see that only 2 minutes have gone by, when it really felt like 10. You might be able to vision the “finish line” easier when running outdoors, as you’re physically moving closer and closer to it. It’s always best to find what works for you and your personal goals. In my opinion, I think everything should be done in moderation, so alternating your running days between outdoors and treadmill running could be more beneficial rather than sticking to only one or the other. The best way of running that is the one you’ll be able to stick to!