Treadmill Running vs. Outdoor Running: Which is Better?

Dedicated runners hate to miss a workout, especially when they’re training for a race. It’s a dedication that compels them to run even when conditions are poor. Of course, there are health and safety risks associated with running outdoors in bad weather. It’s tough to find good footing in icy conditions, and running when it is dark or when rain is pounding down is enough to make even the heartiest competitor lose their motivation.

That’s why some runners elect to do a portion of their training on treadmills. Purists scoff at this, but there are elite runners who do the majority of their training indoors, which only demonstrates that it is possible to get a quality run on the much maligned “hamster wheel.” The key is to find the right mix between running outdoors and indoors. It may also be a good idea for the runner to change their approach to treadmill sessions.

Treadmill running actually boasts a few advantages over road running. The ability to adjust the treadmill’s incline makes it easy to train for running up or down hills without having access to suitable terrain. Because of the treadmill’s more forgiving surface, some runners experience fewer injuries. Many runners also appreciate the ability to get in a good workout without having to leave home, meaning they can keep an eye on the kids even in the midst of an intense cycle.

Of course, treadmill runs possess several key differences over the traditional run outdoors. First and foremost, anyone who runs outdoors knows that even on a relatively still day they must deal with wind resistance. Running indoors will always seem easier thanks to the absence of any wind. Treadmill runners can compensate for this lack of resistance by raising the incline to one or one and a half percent. Studies show that this simple adjustment makes for a more realistic run.

Running on the treadmill also changes the runner’s stride. The motor that drives the belt provides a propulsive force to lift the runner’s leg behind them, which means that the hamstring does not have to work as hard. Anyone doing most of their training on a treadmill would probably benefit from extra hamstring strength training.

Treadmill runs don’t provide the athlete with as much opportunity to deal with constantly changing terrain. This can mean a greater propensity toward injuries on road or trail runs because the runner isn’t accustomed to having to constantly look for good footing. Also, the smaller muscles and ligaments are not properly strengthened to withstand the strain of uneven footing. Accordingly, it makes sense to transition gradually from the treadmill to outdoor runs.

For some runners, there will never be a substitute for running in the great outdoors. However, treadmill runs can definitely offer a better quality workout than many purists believe. A few simple training adjustments can make indoor running highly effective. Dividing workouts between both running scenarios ensures better ability to stick with a training schedule no matter what conditions are.