The Big Debate: Outdoor vs Treadmill Running

The Big Debate: Outdoor vs Treadmill Running

Do you run outdoors, on the treadmill, or both? Discover the definitive pros and cons to both styles of training.

Ask an outdoor runner about treadmill running and you’ll hear words like “boring”, “easier”, “sheltered”. Treadmill runners might defend their training choice: “it’s easier to control variables like speed and gradient”, and “it’s a great tool for very specific running sessions”.

Who’s right? Does it have to be a case or treadmill or outdoors? Or should we all be using them both to get the most out of our running training throughout the year?

Which One Burns More Calories?

Does running outside, or running on a treadmill, actually burn more calories? It depends. Outdoor runners will claim that running outside uses more energy, because of wind resistance, changes in terrain, and subtle shifts in incline. You don’t get any of that with a treadmill. Unless, of course, you design your treadmill session that way. A treadmill session can burn significant calories if you use it wisely: changing the incline or doing sprints.

Studies have shown that setting the treadmill at just 1% gradient can see you burning the same calories as a same-speed, same-distance run outside.

Of course, the best way to blast extra calories from running is to challenge yourself with incline, hills, pace, speed or interval training, whether you’re outside or indoors. It’s just easier to control the variables (and perhaps more convenient) on a treadmill.

Which One Is Best For Pace?

If you use a treadmill for race training, bear in mind that studies show we usually overestimate pace on a treadmill. Treadmill speed training doesn’t always translate to outdoor running. This is important if you use treadmill training as part of a specific running race training programme. The solution? Don’t do all of your race training on a treadmill, and be sure to mix it up with pace work and faster runs outdoors, too.

Which One Makes You Happier?

Treadmill running might be convenient, but it denies you of the many wonderful benefits of running outside: fresh air, blue skies, watching the seasons change, and feeling the sun on your face. Outdoor running gives your brain lots of stimulus, particularly visually, and this is an important factor for most of us. If you run for enjoyment, for “me-time”, or as stress relief, you might find that outdoor running is better than the treadmill.

Which Ones Is Most Convenient For You?

Here’s where treadmill training trumps outdoor running every time. Hopping on a treadmill at home or at the gym is more convenient, needs less running kit (especially in Winter weather) and generally demands less prior planning than road running. And it’s safer, too, which is an important consideration in Winter or if you can only run very early or late in the day. But treadmills aren’t without their risks. Due to the repetition of speed and surface on a treadmill, you leave yourself open to overuse injuries. Running outdoors gives your body plenty of variety underfoot, which can help offset injury.

The conclusion?

There are pros and cons to both treadmill running and outdoor running, and you should choose depending on your goals, your lifestyle, and the time you have available to you. In an ideal world, we’d all have access to both. We could use a treadmill for very controlled and specific speedwork and inclines, and to keep on running during foul weather. And then we’d head to the great outdoors to keep our mind and body happy.

Do you run on a treadmill? How often?

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