The Big Debate: Treadmill vs. Outdoor Running

The treadmill has become an incredibly popular cardiovascular machine and can be found by the dozen lining the periphery of gyms. However, there’s something to be said for good ol’ outdoor running. The question is: which one is better? Some swear by the spontaneity of outdoor running while others prefer the consistency provided by running indoors. In the end, there is no right or wrong; it all depends on your personal goals and preferences. Consider the following pros and cons inherent in both running on a treadmill and taking your cardio to the streets.

Treadmill Pros and Cons

The treadmill is loved and hated for many of the same reasons. The biggest pros working in favor of the treadmill are convenience and level of control. No matter what the weather conditions are like or what time of day it is, from freezing to sweltering temperatures or the crack of dawn to dusk, the treadmill is available. Your workout is also completely under your control. You can monitor speed and incline levels while tracking calories burned, distance gone, and heart rate. For the runner with specific goals, the treadmill is the ideal choice, because it allows the runner to measure each step of the way. Running on the treadmill also cushions your joints more than outdoor running does and there are fewer concerns about personal safety.

But, while some view the monotony as meditative and safe, others consider the lack of variance in terrain and scenery incredibly boring – to say nothing of the stuffy, unnatural feeling of running indoors. And despite the adjustable features on the treadmill that allow you to go as intense as you’d like, the belt helps to propel you along and there is no wind resistance. But this may not be so much of a hurdle anymore. A recent study conducted in England determined that raising the incline grade on the treadmill by a mere 1 percent simulates the intensity provided by outdoor running.

Outdoor Running Pros and Cons

Outdoor running is the obvious choice in terms of being exposed to fresh air, changing seasons and natural scenery. Because of the prevalence of hills, wind resistance, uncontrolled temperatures, and the ability to turn corners, outdoor running is generally more challenging and most people report a greater feeling of accomplishment when they run outside. It is also more motivating in that you can’t simply decide to stop on your route – you have to complete a distance goal or find your way back home somehow, so there is an added push to finish the workout. Also, for those preparing for a marathon, outdoor running is an important part of training, as it simulates the experience far better than a treadmill workout and gets your ready for the unpredictable conditions of a race.

Running outdoors is not all sunshine and flowers, though. Doing so puts you at the mercy of many external factors that could affect your run, such as high wind speeds, inclement weather, extreme temperatures, and variable terrain conditions. The erratic nature of outdoor running also means that if you were keen on accomplishing certain distance and speed goals, you would have no exact way to measure them. The incidence of injury is also much higher when running outside than on a treadmill. 

Take the High Road

For those who like consistency and control, the treadmill is the better choice. But for those whole like to run in fresh air as the scenery changes around them, outdoor running is a better bet. For those training for a running event, it is important to mix it up. Run on a treadmill about 60 percent of the time to get the miles in while preventing injury, and spend the remainder of the time getting your body ready for outdoor conditions. 

Photo Credit: Drongowski