Article by Kari Fry with Louise Henderson. Edited by Hannah Groves.
Many people like to include running in their workout routines. We asked Personal Trainer and Study Active assessor Louise Henderson to talk us through some of the differences and benefits a runner might want to consider when choosing whether to use a treadmill or outdoor running for their next training session.
Louise, to start us off - what is the main difference between using a treadmill vs outdoor running?
Very simply, the main difference between running outside vs on a treadmill is the surface. Outside you will be running on a concrete pavement, trail, or track. Whereas on a treadmill you are running on a moving belt.
What are the benefits of treadmill running?
Here are my top five benefits of treadmill running -
- Treadmill running can be much kinder to joints and ligaments due to a much softer surface to land on.
- The treadmill is more convenient. You can use it day and night, and in any weather, making it a safer option. This is especially the case in the winter months when it is darker and can be icy.
- With treadmill running, all aspects can be controlled including speed, incline, warm up and cooldown time which means that workouts can be customised. Many treadmills now have the option to save your workout, so you have the potential to track and reflect on your progress.
- Users can do other things whilst on a treadmill such as watching TV or chatting to the person next to them!
- Whether you want to run fast or slow, on an incline or flat, or whether you are a beginner or experienced runner, the treadmill is very versatile and can be adapted to suit all levels and abilities.
In contrast then, what are the benefits of running outside?
You are more likely to see greater improvements through running outside. Outdoor running involves more skill, coordination, and strength to pass through different inclines, declines as well as turning corners. Trail running can boost your awareness and balance as you contend with obstacles such as tree routes, puddles, and various terrain. The variety of outdoor runs, when incorporating different routes and terrain, can lead to increased motivation. This means you are motivated to run more frequently. More runs equal more calories burned and a greater level of fitness.
Another consideration is the cost factor. Minus the cost of your kit (trainers/clothes), outside running is free whereas running on a treadmill will cost you a monthly gym membership or upward of £1000 to purchase one for home, not to mention the space they take up and the maintenance costs if they go wrong.
How about using a treadmill vs road running?
Outside running has greater ‘resistance’ also known as ‘air resistance’. This can make runs more challenging, especially when running against the wind and on an interval run (unless there is a tailwind!). So, depending on your running schedule, the weather could help you decide between an indoor or an outdoor run.
Treadmill running is mentally harder whereas you are less likely to get bored running outside. You can plan different routes and incorporate trail runs and road runs whilst soaking up the scenery, embracing the weather, and saying hi to fellow walkers and runners, all whilst getting your daily dose of vitamin D and enjoying the fresh air. But those boring treadmill runs could provide an opportunity to develop mentally as a runner by training yourself to run through the tedium without the scenery, weather, and terrain to take your mind off the run. Treadmill running can feel harder. This is likely to be because you are running at the same constant pace for the desired time. Whereas you will naturally speed up, slow down, stop and start whilst running outside.
Treadmill running vs running outside - If your focus was on weight loss, would you see greater results with one over the other?
Any running will achieve weight loss. Weight loss will be determined by the consistency, enjoyment, effort, and frequency. Steady state running and interval running can be achieved both on a treadmill and outdoors, so it really comes down to preference.
Summary - treadmill vs running outside
Thank you, Louise. Some great things to consider when planning a running location. Factors such as difficulty, motivation, cost, and safety are all important aspects to take into account when choosing whether to use a treadmill or run outside.
References: Running On a Treadmill Vs. Outside: Which is Harder? (womensrunning.com)
The below are some thoughts of the editor with regards to the treadmill vs jogging debate. The comments are useful for anyone considering using a treadmill for running or running outdoors. The editors comments on treadmill running will add to the debate about treadmill vs running training.
The below will pick apart further the age old debate of treadmill vs running – or treadmill vs jogging as some may refer to it as! The following text will compare treadmill running training (both indoor treadmill and outdoor treadmill varieties!). It will also explore why some prefer treadmill running training and why many are keen to promote treadmill benefits. The article will also look at why it is important to know how to train running on a treadmill and it will also touch on the use of treadmill incline and mitigating against risk including poor weather conditions and other dangers for the outdoor runner and also things like setting the speed too high on an indoor treadmill!
It is indeed a very common question as to whether treadmill running or running outside is the better option. In fact the treadmill vs running debate is one that often divides opinions. Many advocate treadmill benefits whilst others disagree. As we have seen from the interview with Louise a treadmill for running is a very useful piece of kit if you are more of an indoor fitness person, however those who are more outdoor runners may wish to be more adventurous than simply using an outside treadmill! In fact the sky’s the limit when running outdoors as this could be road running, terrain running or track running, all of which are excellent alternatives to a treadmill for running exercises.
A treadmill for running is usually a piece of kit found inside a gym however you may find in some outdoor gyms an outdoor treadmill which would likely be a self-powered device which would not be as comfortable as an indoor treadmill for running exercises. Indeed comfort is a key item on the treadmill benefits list!
Treadmill running training is certainly very convenient though if you want an easy, quick, convenient jog then some may well lean towards the treadmill in the great treadmill vs jogging debate!
One could argue that as human being we are more naturally suited to running outdoors, in fact this takes little practice once mastered as opposed to some who may find themselves stunted as they don’t necessarily know how to train running on a treadmill. This means that an inexperienced gym user may need to seek assistance from a Personal Trainer when getting to grips with how to train running on the treadmill – though one could argue that having a trainer on hand is another to add to the list of treadmill benefits.
Once the skills is learned however, treadmill running training can be extremely effective (with an indoor treadmill likely to be more comfortable than an outdoor treadmill!). Treadmill benefits therefore are often cited.
Of course the treadmill vs running debate will always continue. Some may be real advocates of a treadmill for running exercises (and may openly promote such treadmill benefits) whilst others may prefer outdoor running (or even an outdoor treadmill like the ones in outdoor gyms which are becoming more and more popular). So a treadmill for running (either an indoor or outdoor treadmill) can be the preference of many in the treadmill vs running debate.
With regards to treadmill benefits, one could argue that a treadmill for running in a gym would allow the user to control and adjust the speed and incline to more precise levels which can be important considerations for treadmill running training (obviously an outdoor treadmill would likely not have this luxury!).
Others may argue however that treadmill running training is inferior to outdoor running training as outdoors can utilise multi terrain, thus making it more unpredictable to keep the body guessing (for example fartlek training outdoors one could argue provides a more varied workout that treadmill running training.
Treadmill benefits however include convenience and the fact that some may not want to train outdoors. Indeed adverse weather could represent risk areas for a runner e.g. poor weather conditions like snow and ice could be dangerous for an outdoor runner, This could represent more risk to that for an indoor treadmill where the biggest risk would likely be setting the speed too high on a treadmill control panel.
A key treadmill benefit is the ability to alter and control the treadmill incline. This can help make the treadmill work out more difficult. Real life hill running may indeed have its own natural outdoor running incline however the runner would not be able to monitor and control such incline as well as they would when using a treadmill for running exercises.
It is very important to consider risk when exploring the treadmill vs jogging debate. Any such risk must always be mitigated against., For example poor weather conditions like snow and ice must be considered for the runner. As these could be dangerous for an outdoor runner. To mitigate there would have to be risk control measures in place such as wearing the correct running footwear, having a safe path cleared and ensuring adequate running clothing. With regards to risk for someone using a treadmill for running exercises in a gym then having an induction on how to train running on a treadmill is very important to mitigate risk. If someone is performing treadmill running training without an induction then they risk setting the speed too high on a treadmill. A qualified Personal Trainer would explain how to train running on treadmill and go through various treadmill running training tips as well as key treadmill benefits.
This article has further explored the debate about running on a treadmill vs running outdoors. It has explored the treadmill benefits when using a treadmill for running and added fuel to fire for the treadmill vs jogging debate! This article has looked at using a treadmill for running (including both the indoor treadmill and the outdoor treadmill). And has looked at key treadmill benefits such as the ability to adjust the treadmill’s incline to replicate real life hill running. The above has further explored the treadmill vs running argument by looking at risks for treadmill running training (e.g. setting the treadmill speed too high) as opposed to risks for the outdoor runner (e.g. poor weather, snow, ice and other dangers for the outdoor runner). The treadmill vs running debate will always continue but hopefully this article has given some food for thought.
Summary of key points - treadmill vs running outside
- A treadmill for running can be an effective treadmill work out for a runner
- There are both indoor and outdoor treadmill variations
- The indoor treadmill may have more treadmill benefits than an outdoor treadmill such as the ability to adjust the treadmill incline
- A qualified exercise professional can advise on how to train running on a treadmill
- Treadmill running training has key differences when compared to outdoor running
- There are risks to outdoor running such as weather (ice, snow etc) that can be dangerous for an outdoor runner
- There are risks for an indoor treadmill such as setting the treadmill speed or treadmill incline too high
This article has made reference to many treadmill benefits and tips on using a treadmill for running as part of a treadmill running programme. However anyone wishing to use a treadmill for running should ensure that they have been shown how to train running on a treadmill by a qualified fitness professional. Before using an indoor treadmill or an outdoor treadmill any user should completed a PAR-Q and obtain GP consent if required.