Treadmill vs. Outside Running: Which Is Best?

A man running outside wearing a mask.
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Love them or hate them, most runners have strong feelings about treadmills. While some are unapologetic fans, others exclusively run outside unless dire weather conditions drive them indoors.

Controversy aside, it’s important to keep in mind there’s no right or wrong way to run. Regardless of your personal preferences, both treadmill and outdoor workouts have their place in a well-rounded runner’s training toolbox. Learning more about the strengths of each can help you make the most out of your skillset.

How They’re Similar

Treadmill and outdoor running have a lot in common. In some ways, your body can’t tell the difference between the two. Whether you’re pounding the pavement or hitting the treadmill, studies show your VO2 max, or the measurement of your maximum oxygen intake during exercise, is the same. The way your body moves is also largely unaffected by where you run.

How They’re Different

While treadmill and outdoor running share some similarities, each has its unique strengths. Here are some of the reasons you might choose one over the other.

Reasons to Run on a Treadmill

It’s Easier on Your Body

The movement of a treadmill belt helps assist with leg turnover, making a treadmill effort slightly easier. This can be particularly beneficial if you’re recovering from an injury, and allow you to reacclimate your body to physical activity.

It’s Climate Controlled

Treadmill running allows you to log some miles, even during dangerously hot, cold, icy or stormy conditions.

It’s Safer

For those who don’t live close to a place they feel comfortable running, or for those who only have time early in the morning or late at night when few people are around, using a treadmill can allow you to get your cardio while keeping peace of mind. In the days of social distancing, it’s a particularly safe way to log your miles and keep your training momentum going, too.

It Allows You to Experiment With Inclines

If you live in a flat area and you’re training for a hilly race, treadmills can be an excellent way to get used to inclines. Newer treadmills allow almost unlimited incline variations to help flatlanders get ready for even the most rugged courses.

It Structures Your Workout

Many treadmills have pre-set workout options that can encourage you to push past your limits and stay motivated through tough workouts.

Reasons to Run Outdoors

It Involves More Muscle Activation

Outdoor running is full of unknowns. Uneven roads, wind resistance and unexpected stops mean that running outside naturally involves more variation in running surface and pace. This means more opportunities to strengthen your muscles.

It Better Strengthens Your Bones

Outside, your bones and joints have to adjust to hard running surfaces, which translates to building more strength and resilience over time.

It Helps Prepare You for Races

While it’s important to stay safe in stormy, icy or hot conditions, you’ll need to train your body and mind for any weather you may face during a future competitive run. Outdoor running gives you the opportunity to prepare your body and mind for less-than-ideal race day circumstances.

It Improves Your Mood

Fresh air, sunlight and time in nature make running outdoors better for your mental health and well-being.

Figuring Out Which Is Right for You

There are pros and cons to running outside and running on a treadmill. Neither is inherently better than the other, and the method that’ll work best for you depends on your goals.

While running outside gives you a chance to spend time outdoors, prepare for future races and strengthen your body more robustly, treadmill running may be preferable during bad weather, unsafe conditions, injury recovery or casual cardio. If you want to be a well-rounded runner, it’s probably best to use a combination of the two.

Ultimately, running regularly is more important than where you run. Physical activity is a key component of a healthy body, mind and spirit. Figure out which one suits you and do everything you can to work it into a routine.

Running Strong With Whole-Person Health

Whether you primarily run indoors or outdoors, it’s important to do everything you can to keep your body strong and healthy. If you need help to support your health and fitness journey, our expert network of care is here to guide you with extra safety measures in place to protect your whole health.

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