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Blog What is Better, Running on a Treadmill or Outside?


What is Better, Running on a Treadmill or Outside?

  • by Michelle
  • May 19, 2011


This seems to be a question I get asked quite frequently, so I thought this would be a great topic to cover in this week’s article. With the long winter finally over, many people want to take their cardiovascular exercise outdoors and switch it up from the regular treadmill running routine. I am frequently asked the question of which is better, treadmill running or outdoor running? Unfortunately there is no easy yes or no answer to this question because it depends on the countless parameters related to running distance, terrain, intensity, training goals, and individual fitness level to name a few.

I always begin my response to this question with this statement: running is a great calorie burning workout wherever you do it. Regardless of whether you run indoors on a treadmill or outdoors, the same muscles are still activated and you are still burning calories. Running is one of the most convenient and productive ways of training the heart, burning calories, and keeping healthy because you can basically do it anywhere! Nowadays gyms seem to have rows upon rows of treadmills and other cardio equipment equipped with things like TV’s, radios, iPod plug-ins, and programs that simulate running any type of terrain. If you are someone who does not enjoy running or being in the gym, most top of the line gyms provide you with numerous “distractions” to keep you there longer and reduce the amount of “suffering” you may experience during a workout. Avid “outdoor runners” seem to enjoy the fresh air and “distractions” from being out in a beautiful trail or running through the streets of the neighbourhood.

There are positive and negative points to each option and I believe it truly comes down to personal preference and training goals. If you are training for an outdoor race then it would be in your best interest to train outdoors to teach to body to adapt to different types of terrain, weather patterns, and climates. It would be OK to perform some workouts indoors, but doing approximately 60% of your training outdoors would be the most beneficial. In regards to the workout intensity, treadmill running is believed to be slightly less challenging due to the lack of wind resistance, changes in terrain, belt assisted forward motion, and the fact that you can’t run downhill on a treadmill. Studies have found that putting the treadmill at a level 1 incline during your run more closely imitates outdoor running intensity. In general conclusion, if you remain at similar exercise intensity (heart rate) during a run on flat terrain either indoor or outdoor and run for the same distance/amount of time, the resulting workout of each will be closely comparable. Here are some distinct advantages of indoor and outdoor running:

Indoor Running


• Can be performed anytime of day, any day of the year, in any weather pattern

• Can watch TV while running

• Can set specific incline levels, speeds, times of each run to reflect training goals

• Cushioned surface can be easier on lower body joints (hips, knees, ankles)

• Can stop your run at anytime you like or need by hitting the “stop” button

• Treadmills have handrails that you can grasp for balance when beginning a walking/running program

Outdoor Running


• Can be done anywhere and can enjoy nature and scenery during your workout

• More functionally related to activities of daily living

• Is generally harder and can possibly expend more calories than running same distance on a treadmill

• Can switch it up frequently and try newer, harder, longer routes daily if desired

• Many people get a feeling of accomplishment after completing a specific distance instead of running for a certain amount of time on a treadmill and getting off

If you are recovering from or are prone to lower body injury please seek recommendation from a medical professional to decide which terrain would be best to prevent or reduce the risk of injury.

Email Michelle@CORE-Condition.com for more information about the difference between running indoors and outdoors.

Michelle Roots BA Kin, CSCS, PES