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Treadmill vs Running Outside: Which Method is The Best?

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Running is important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For those of us whose resolution is to get more workouts, running is a very effective exercise. In this article, we are going to compare the two most popular options available to us – treadmill vs running outdoors. 

The big question is, “Which is better, running on the treadmill or running outdoors.” We have our preferences but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone else. Both options certainly have their differences. However, if they are used correctly, they’re both very powerful training tools. 

A man running on a treadmill after choosing which is the best between treadmill vs running outside
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So, is there any difference between treadmill running and outdoor running? Which one’s better for our bodies? Does a treadmill vs running outdoors get you fitter?

Pros of Treadmills

Safety and Controlled Environment

It’s more convenient to be able to jump on the treadmill and not have to worry about getting injured and slipping around in the snow and ice. Nothing can stop you here other than a power failure maybe. You’re protected from the bad weather and you can even keep up with your favorite daytime TV.

A man running on a treadmill at the gym
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Convenience

You don’t have to do as much laundry or put on three layers of clothes to go run out. Because you could just run in a t-shirt or shorts in this nice controlled gym environment or indoor environment. You just put on your shoes and start running.

Sunny Health & Fitness Electric Treadmill
Based on our testing, this is the best budget treadmill for beginners. For less than 400$, it has most essential features that you've come to expect, it's small and sturdy, frankly it offers great value for money. It's also backed with an 8 years warranty.

If you have kids and you gotta be watching them, you could be interacting with your kids as you’re running on a treadmill. You don’t have to leave them and have someone else watch them.

Specificity of Training

If your aim isn’t to burn calories and you want to perform specific training (we mean to be running with good form at a pretty good pace), the treadmill is a good tool to do that.

You can perform running intervals and all-uphill tempo workouts. If you’re going to run an all-uphill race, the specificity of training moves all-uphill climb, and you want to practice power. However, you don’t have to push back with quite as much force as you would outside to propel yourself. 

So, you can run a tempo run workout or a faster pace workout, or a hill climb workout not having to worry about the downhill.

More Control

The same thing is with running a tempo run workout. If you prefer indoor running, you can monitor your pace very accurately by performing aerobic exercises. However, some modern treadmills vary with their calibration and how accurate they are, but in general, if it’s a good treadmill, you have good solid footing and you can open up your stride. So, using a treadmill in a gym, you can lock the incline up, and get your heart rate up and your muscles firing. 

For a treadmill, you can listen to music and don’t have to worry about getting hit by a car. Also, you can look in a mirror at your running form. However, it may be mentally harder. 

It Requires Less Effort

Contrary to popular belief, there’s also the issue of perception. A study found that the treadmill can distort our perception of speed. Participants matched their running speeds on a treadmill and outdoors. They ended up running significantly slower on a treadmill. It means that not only do you work harder when you’re doing steady-state running outdoors, but you also don’t even realize it.

No Wind Resistance

There are no uneven surfaces, no corners, and no busy streets. Just you and the treadmill. If you’re training for an outdoor event, there are a few adjustments you’ll need to make to make it more realistic. You don’t have the challenge of wind resistance indoors. So you should set the treadmill to a 1% gradient to mimic this for hitting that road race and setting the exact pace that you want to run well.

A woman running on a treadmill at the gym
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Cons of Treadmill

There are a lot of downsides of treadmill running:

It May Change Your Actual Running Form

The drawbacks are that your stride changes a little bit. Your forms are going to be a little bit different on a treadmill because of the nature of the moving belt

By the way, treadmills slow you down. A study showed treadmill runners overestimated their speed on a treadmill. They could run faster outdoors for just as long. This may be because seeing objects pass by affects our perception of speed.

Lack of Wind Resistance

The other factor is the lack of air resistance. Theoretically, it is easier to perform treadmill training, especially at fast paces. For example, if you’re running 1 mile at 12 miles an hour pace, it’s a lot easier to perform it on a treadmill than it would be outdoors.

Monotony

Despite the ability to run at a high pace and control a treadmill workout, running on a treadmill doesn’t feel easier mentally necessarily.

Pros of Outdoors Running

Mental Health

Studies show that running outdoors makes you feel more positive. Also, studies have shown that exercising outside is good for the mind and for lowering blood pressure and stress. By the way, there are advantages of exposure to sunshine and therefore to vitamin D.

Additional benefits are increased muscle strength and clear air. And it costs nothing. But if you choose the treadmill, make sure you take advantage of all its features to ring the changes and up the energy levels.

A man running outside
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Weight Loss

If you’re out in the open air, there’s a big chance you’re burning more calories. Due to wind resistance, which you just don’t get running on a treadmill, running outdoors uses up more energy than running at the same speed indoors. However, a study conducted at the University of Exeter shows that you can easily compensate for this in the gym simply by setting your treadmill to a 1% gradient.

Exploring New Areas

For some people, the idea of completing a route or exploring is motivating and has a greater sense of achievement. However, it also provides its challengers with the wind, the hills, and the weather, which runners will experience on upcoming race day too. So, the surface can cause some issues. Make sure you stay aware.

Cons of Outdoors Running

The Weather Conditions

We love the idea of lacing up and heading out into the great outdoors. But that said, it can be frustrating if we can’t do a run session because of the surface conditions or the weather.

It Is Hard to Control Pace

You need to control the pace. And it’s harder than on a treadmill. On a treadmill, you can drift off and you’ll literally fall off. Outdoor, you can drift off without noticing. So, you have to keep an eye on your watch.

Requires Skills

Cross-country running requires a specific skill set. So if you entered for an event, you will want to rack up a few miles outdoors to prepare.

Someone running outside
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Treadmill vs Running: Common Injuries

When it comes to impact and injury well, it’s hard to compare common treadmill injuries vs running. So, what method is safest for our bodies?

Common Treadmill Injuries

When it comes to the risk of injury, there are a few benefits to treadmill running. However, there are also some surprising drawbacks. 

Treadmills are smooth and cushioned but the repetitive movement in one direction can sometimes cause people issues. Repetition of the same movement causes a risk of wearing out ligaments and joints. It may end up with an injury. Running we hit the ground about a thousand times a mile. It leads to a lot of tear and wear. 

Either way, even the keenest treadmill users should sometimes run outdoors on uneven ground to prepare themselves for race day.

So, if you’re performing the same action again and again using a treadmill, it’s a wonderful idea to mix it up a bit by varying the incline level and speed. This is less of an issue when you run outdoors. 

Sunny Health & Fitness Electric Treadmill
Based on our testing, this is the best budget treadmill for beginners. For less than 400$, it has most essential features that you've come to expect, it's small and sturdy, frankly it offers great value for money. It's also backed with an 8 years warranty.

Each step is likely to be different when you run outdoors, especially if you go off-road. It’s because of the varied and uneven terrain. It can activate a variety of muscles, strengthen the joints and ligaments, and even teach your body better balance. There are a number of different surfaces to choose from outdoors: the track, the trails, or the road. 

Common Running Injuries

Running outside risks include air pollution, car accidents, or heat stroke.

If it’s icy, that’s an injury risk. If you’re going to slip and pull your hamstring, we’ll pull a groin muscle. It’s not worth it. The other thing is the cars. If you’re running out in the road because it’s the only place that’s plowed, you might get hit by a car. Cars can’t see you and stop as well on the ice.

Also, it could be that you work a full-time job like most people and you have to wake up early in the morning at 5:00 a.m. in the winter when it’s dark and cold out. So, it’s safer maybe to run inside where it’s dry and you could have light.

If you live in a rough neighborhood, it might be more likely to get attacked when you’re running in the dark in isolated places. Air pollution and extreme heat can be other safety issues.

A woman running outside
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Treadmill vs Running: FAQs

Is a treadmill better than actually running?

The treadmill is a wonderful training tool. For some people, it may be their only choice to perform workouts due to location or the time of day that they can run. So, if you want to hit a very specific workout, the treadmill does that well for you. However, outdoor running might be slightly healthier. But the one you’ll stick with is the most effective way of physical activity.

What are the disadvantages of treadmill?

The treadmill has a lot of disadvantages such as high price, the risk of injuries, monotony, and an inability to perform all-downhill workouts. Also, it needs maintenance.

Treadmills have one common risk: joint and ligament damage. This occurs when you run at the same speed and incline for a long time. Be sure to vary your movement. On the other hand, outdoor runners naturally vary their steps, based on varied terrain.

Is it better to run outside or on a treadmill to lose weight?

A study found that runners exerted more energy outdoors than indoors. Running outdoors is about equal to a treadmill running on a 1% incline. This extra energy you exert outside is from air resistance.

So, the general rule is that you have to put the incline up at 1 or 2% to make up for that lack of wind resistance. However, it’s a good idea to run outside in the type of race that you are training for.

With that in mind, you can run both on a treadmill and outside to lose weight. Treadmills are about smart training. However, there are a lot of fun activities you can do, if you want to burn calories.

About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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