What’s the Difference?
This winter I have put more miles on my treadmill than ever before. I will always prefer to run outside but I am grateful to have the indoor option when extreme weather prevents me from going outside. After all, running on the treadmill can’t be that much different. Running is running right? Or is it?
Generally speaking, what I’ve read is that you can get a similar workout on the treadmill as you can running outside as long as you maintain the same effort level. But, what about specifics?
On the treadmill, you run on one constant surface. This has some give for your knees. On the other hand, the treadmill is flat and, even with an incline, doesn’t give your muscles the same variability or challenge that you’d get outside.
Running outside gives you greater variability and challenge because of the changes in terrain and slope, which challenges and strengthens your muscles but if you’re running on the cement sidewalks or asphalt, running can be very jarring on your knees and joints.
When you run on a treadmill, you know and can regulate what the temperature is going to be making it easy to know what to wear. But treadmill runners miss out on the sunshine and blue skies.
Running outside gives you extreme variability in weather conditions and the time of day. When it’s dark, cold, rainy or windy, the weather can really play a factor in your comfort level, performance and safety. And for people with seasonal allergies, outdoor exercise might not even be an option at times.
Many treadmill runners swear by watching TV or listening to music to keep them motivated but, on the whole, most people find the treadmill to be a bit boring.
There is just so much more to look at and think about when you’re running outside. And by varying your route regularly boredom is rarely a factor.
The best workouts will improve your ability to do everyday things—like play with your kids or get to first base faster in that softball game. While treadmill running is a great workout and will improve your fitness level, it doesn’t mimic how you will walk or run in a real-life situation.
Running outdoors is extremely functional. Even when you think you’re running on flat ground, the ground is never completely flat. This means your foot, leg and core muscles are constantly making small adjustments to contend with the varying surfaces. These small muscle movements are important for your coordination, balance and ability to do everyday things.
Running on a treadmill is easier because the treadmill belt assists leg turnover and there is no wind resistance or variation in the running surface. May sources cite by adding a 1-1.5% incline and varying pace you can simulate running outdoors and as fitness improves you can increase the incline. Check out this Treadmill Pace Conversions chart to get approximate equivalent efforts between running on a treadmill at different paces and inclines and running outdoors on a level surface.
Outdoor running uses more muscle fibers and burns more calories for the same amount of work when compared to a treadmill. Running outside forces runners to contend with the wind and to expend more energy as a result. Wind resistance alone increases a runner’s workload 2 to 10 percent; the faster you run, the more resistance you feel. Although indoor runners can adjust difficulty by increasing the incline setting they cannot compensate for shifting terrain or changing scenery. In addition, road running causes runners to consume more oxygen (largely due to wind resistance and changing terrain), making outdoor running slightly more difficult than treadmill running.
- I won’t run in the dark by myself so having the flexibility to run on a treadmill at any time is a bonus
- my pace is faster when I run outside
- I notice slight differences in my form when I run on the treadmill
- I get bored on the treadmill even if I’m watching TV
- I feel more “accomplished” after running outside
Fortunately, I don’t have to choose one over the other. I will always prefer to run outside but having the option of a treadmill has it’s benefits and it’s better than not running at all.
What differences do you notice when running on a treadmill compared to running outside?
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