Running on the Treadmill vs. Running Outside

It's springtime and the sun is out... and so are runners' calves.

Whether or not you're a fan of running, cardio is an important element of any fitness routine. At some point you've probably wondered whether it's better to run outside on the pavement or inside on a treadmill.

Let's evaluate.

The Perks of Running Outside

Let's start off by saying that running outside provides more options as far as scenery and variety. By a landslide. Even if you have a fancy treadmill that shows you different "routes to run on," it doesn't compare to the actual Choose-Your-Own-Adventure thrill you get when you're running outside.

In general, you end up expending more energy when running outside than you doing when running on the treadmill.

Rondel King, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and exercise pathologist at NYU claims that you get "more muscle activation outside because your feet have to grab the ground to propel you forward" while a treadmill "does some of that work by feeding the belt to you."

Additionally, King stated that running outside is more suited to your natural running gait cycle. In turn, this activates more of your muscles because you don't have to run in a strictly linear pattern. When you run outside, you have to adapt to multiple variables from dodging people and/or dogs to hopping up and down off of curbs.

"Running on a stiffer surface like asphalt or concrete is going to provide more ground reaction forces, which can definitely reinforce your bones a little more than a treadmill," King continues.

On top of that, you don't need a gym membership to run outside. It's totally free! Plus, running outside may encourage you to run farther because you're less likely to get bored outside.

Spending time outside surrounded by greenery and sunlight can also decrease depression and anxiety in athletes.

The Drawbacks of Running Outside

Because outdoor running doesn't provide the boost that a treadmill gives you, you have to work extra hard to propel yourself forward. Because of this, outdoor running can be harder on your body.

Many runners experience joint, bone pain, or injury from running outdoors without resistant training. Outdoor runners have to supplement their running routines with strength training so they learn to absorb the ground reaction forces.

The Perks of Running on a Treadmill

If you have access to a treadmill, you can use it whenever you want. You don't have to worry about whether there's ice on the ground or if it's dark, you can just go run.

The treadmill environment is completely controlled: you get to determine the speed, incline, interval, and recovery time.

Since you get to decide on your speed, it's easier to get used to running at a certain speed over long periods of time. Well, you kind of have to keep up with the treadmill or else you'll fly off. And this will make keeping pace easier when you run outside.

Since the treadmill propels your forward, it's easier on your joints and can keep you healthier longer.

You can multitask on a treadmill by watching TV or reading a book if you aren't going too fast.

"Treadmills are designed to absorb ground reaction forces, so it will ideally save your joints from the impact associated with running," King states.

Using a treadmill is a great way to get in quick bursts of cardio to keep your fitness plan well-rounded.

The Drawbacks of Running on a Treadmill

We're all thinking it, so I'll just say it. It's so boring.

While treadmills are great at simulating an uphill run, most treadmills are unable to replicate downhill conditions.

And King tells us "if you're only running inside, certain muscles could become weak and de-conditioned.

Treadmill running requires fewer muscle groups because of the propulsion given by the belt, so your workouts can't *just* be running on a treadmill. Some runners will try to compensate for this by increasing the incline on a treadmill by 1-2% to simulate an experience closer to outdoor running.

So Which is Better?

Well, if you're training for a race, then outdoor running is the way to go. You can't completely predict what the weather will be like the day you run your race, so it's important to get practice on the pavement in all conditions.

However, the treadmill is a great place to start if you're coming back from an injury.

But What If Neither of Those Apply to Me And I Just Want to Lose Weight? Then What?

The truth is that athletes can get the same level of workout whether they're running on a treadmill or running outside. The key is that they maintain the same effort level.

Your effort level refers to your heart rate and perceived exertion. Heart rate is something your Apple Watch can measure, but perceived exertion is all in your brain.

Perceived exertion is how hard you consider an activity to be despite how your body responds to that activity. Usually, your perceived exertion from running outdoors will be higher compared to the treadmill even if you hit a higher heart rate and burn more calories on the treadmill. If you don't believe that, try running up a hill in the middle of summer.

Perceived exertion matters because we tend to give up sooner if we think something is difficult. (Like burpees.)

At the end of the day, both methods have their ups and downs--literally. You can work towards weight loss either inside or outside with steady state running or HIIT cycles where you sprint for 30 second intervals and walk or jog for 90 second intervals.

Both forms of running lead to health benefits including reducing blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, depression, and anxiety.

No matter how you run, the important thing is that you get moving.

But since we're having the debate, let us know in the comments if you prefer to run inside on a treadmill or outside on the pavement!

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