One of the best things about running is how easy it is to do. Although acquiring running gear can become a passion on its own, all you truly need is a pair of shoes and a place to run freely!
That place isn’t always outside. Because of weather or other circumstances, sometimes it is necessary to run inside. Many runners invest in a treadmill at some point. They are an excellent training aid, and having one means you never miss a run because of weather or time constraints.
But is there a significant difference between running outside vs running on a treadmill? Is one better than the other?
In this article, we’ll be delving into the details of each so you can see the pros and cons of outdoor vs. treadmill running.
Running outside is the first prize for most runners. It gets you out of the house and more likely to make the most of your exercise time. But it has some other benefits that you just can’t find when running on the treadmill.
The outdoors is full of excitement! There are many different routes, surfaces, and challenges outside that you just can’t get on the treadmill.
It’s hard to get bored outdoors. You can always run a new route, try a different type of running (e.g. trail running vs. road running), or explore your city or town.
It’s also the perfect way to continue your training while you’re on vacation or traveling for business!
Being outdoors is usually much healthier for you than running indoors. The obvious exception is if you live in a highly polluted area. But in most cases, running in the fresh air is going to be much better for your lungs.
Another bonus is interesting sights and views! Even if you run the same route every day, there’s always something new to see, whether it’s a person, pet, or sunset.
Even running in unusual or adverse weather conditions can be fun and challenging!
When you’re running outside, there’s a fairly high chance of coming across other runners. Even if it’s just waving to others as you run by, there’s a much more social element to running outside than there is with a treadmill.
You can also meet up with others for a group run. You can’t really do that on a treadmill unless you use an app that allows you to virtually run with other people. Even that is not quite the same, though!
Running outside is a superior quality exercise to running on the treadmill. Because the terrain changes and you need to account for bumps in the surface or move out of the way of other people, it’s a much more muscle-strengthening and calorie-burning exercise than being on the treadmill.
Although the treadmill certainly has its place, the road/trail/track is the best place to train for a race. Not only can you get used to running on routes or surfaces similar to what you can expect during the race, but it also helps prepare you for any weather.
Can Be Challenging
Outdoor running isn’t always a breeze. You have to contend with whatever the weather is doing. Sometimes you may feel like you’re going to freeze, and other times you may feel like you’re going to melt into a puddle.
If you have no choice but to run early in the morning or late at night, you may find running in the dark difficult or scary.
Avoiding traffic and making sure drivers can see you clearly is another thing you need to take into consideration.
In some cases, pollution may be a problem. In others, aggressive dogs, wildlife, or even aggressive people could be a concern!
The surface can be unpredictable when you’re running outdoors. On the road, you may come across gravel patches, uneven surfaces, or potholes. On the trail, stray branches, sandy surfaces, roots, rocks, and steep hills are a constant challenge.
These uneven surfaces present a risk of turning your ankle or falling. Hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete can also contribute to injury if you aren’t wearing proper shoes.
More Prep Required
You can’t just get out of bed and head out the door for your run. You need to make sure you’re dressed for the weather, and take an extra layer if necessary. If you’re running a long distance, you need to make sure you’ll be well-hydrated and fueled for the full run.
You need to plan your route (unless you enjoy just seeing where the road takes you). Timing may also be important here. If you can’t run before work, you need to take time out to go after work, but before it’s too dark.
Running on a Treadmill
Now that we’ve seen the benefits and pitfalls of running on the road, let’s see what’s great and what’s not about treadmill running!
Injuries and Injury Recovery
Running on the treadmill is easier on the joints. The treadmill deck is much more cushioned than the road or trail, so running on one is much softer.
If you’re recovering from an injury and want to start getting back into running slowly, a treadmill is an excellent way to begin.
Apart from cushioning, you can take it at your own pace, shorten your stride if necessary, and when you feel you’ve had enough, it’s just a few steps away to the nearest chair!
More Control While Training
Outside, certain things are not under your control. Even if you know your training route very well, there’s a chance the weather may act up, there may be too many other people around, or the terrain may change.
On a treadmill, you have total control of your training. You can choose the program you wish to follow, set your own programs, or train something specific, like speed or distance.
Treadmills are also excellent for incline training. If you live somewhere very flat, this may be the best way for you to get hill training done!
This is where the treadmill really shines. Once you’ve invested in one, you have no excuse at all not to go for that run!
You can run on a treadmill in any weather. If you place it smartly in your home, you can make use of the air conditioning or heating too, so you’re never uncomfortable!
If you have a busy schedule, you can run on your treadmill any time of day or night. Is a big work meeting or deadline keeping you up at night? Take a quick run in the middle of the night! Not only does it help clear your head, but it may actually help you fall asleep afterward.
Another great thing about treadmills is that, although you don’t have the scenery or the bustling street life around you, you can choose to read, listen to music without worrying about traffic, or watch a movie or series while you run.
You’ll have a full array of food and drinks at hand, and don’t have to worry about carrying your water bottle and energy bars while you’re out and about.
Although it’s critical to educate yourself on treadmill safety before buying and using one, it can also be safer than running outdoors. You’re very unlikely to run into vicious animals, people with unpleasant intentions, and potentially dangerous situations.
Running is Easier Outdoors
At first thought, you may feel that running on a treadmill is easier. The truth is that running outdoors is the easier of the two.
First, you have space. On a treadmill, you have limited space, which could lead to you losing your form.
When running on the ground outside, the natural terrain can help propel you forward with less effort on your part. Also, the wind in your hair and the fresh air in your lungs can be more motivating than you realize!
If you only ever run on a treadmill, you may also miss out on gaining natural agility. When you run on the road, avoiding obstacles improves your agility without you even realizing it.
In a way, being able to control and dictate your running environment can be helpful. If you have a full room to set up as your running environment, then you could set up an amazing, healthy, great-feeling environment that motivates you to run every time.
But in general, running outdoors is a better environment. Not only are you breathing in the fresh air as opposed to stale air in a room (unless you’re breathing in traffic fumes), you’re also experiencing scenery, views, and nature.
The benefits of running in nature have been well documented!
Boring and Monotonous
There’s a reason they are often referred to as the “dreadmill.” Running on the treadmill can become monotonous. The view is the same, the method is the same, and it can also be easy to become engrossed in your stats or data and focus on that instead of focusing on the run.
If you’re constantly watching the time, it can make the run seem far longer than it actually is. If this is a problem you recognize in yourself, try covering the console with a towel so you can’t see the clock ticking!
Other downsides include being stuck in a stuffy room or sweaty gym and having a noisy treadmill motor in your ears.
While the treadmill is super for things like incline training, there are training limitations. It’s hard to pace yourself properly on the treadmill, as you’re basically following the treadmill and not the other way around. A manual treadmill may solve this problem slightly, but it has its own set of limitations.
Interval training can also be difficult if you aren’t sticking to a set pace. Also, most treadmills can’t replicate downhill motions, so you won’t be able to train in that way for any upcoming races you may have.
Running outside is free! Treadmills are not – they cost a chunk and that doesn’t include the electricity needed to run them! If you’d prefer to use the gym’s treadmill, you’ll still be paying gym fees.
Treadmill safety is also extremely important. There’s a chance of injuring yourself badly if you don’t run safely, which may put some people off using a treadmill.
How to Transition Between Indoor and Outdoor Running
We highly recommend including a bit of both type of running in your training. The convenience of a treadmill can’t be denied, but there’s nothing like running outdoors.
Whether you’ve been running mostly indoors and are adding in some outside running, or you’ve been running on the road and want to add some treadmill work to your repertoire, do it slowly!
Getting used to a treadmill can be tricky if you’re used to running on the road. In the same vein, running on the road, while freeing, can be difficult to get used to if you’ve been doing most of your running on the treadmill.
Add one or two runs per week until you’re used to the difference. Don’t start at the same intensity that you’re already doing on your preferred type of running!
Start slow. If your first experience feels too slow or light for you, then you know you can increase the intensity next time. Patience is key!
If you feel that both types of running could benefit you, then we recommend tweaking your training schedule slightly to include both.