Running Outside vs. the Treadmill

Coach Casey · July 20, 2020

Whether to avoid the heat, the cold, inclement weather, or simply due to schedule and access, more and more runners find themselves logging significant mileage on treadmills. Nowadays, facing health concerns and the necessity of social distancing, treadmill running has continued to gain popularity among former “road warriors” of running. So what are the differences between running outside vs. the treadmill? How, as runners, can we make sure that our transition from one to the other and back is smooth and injury-free?

Check out our Charge list of the advantages and disadvantages of both running on the treadmill and hitting the open road, and learn how you can make the most of each while training!

Running Outside vs. The Treadmill: Pros and Cons

Every runner has their personal preferences, however, there are clear pros and cons for both treadmill running and logging your miles outside on the open road. Running outside vs. the treadmill isn’t as clear cut as it may seem.

The treadmill can be an effective training tool for any runner!

Treadmill Pros:

Technology and its continued advancement when it comes to exercise equipment is a big pro for treadmill running. The ability to adjust inclines on the fly, stay entertained with music and TV, and track a variety of running metrics (HR, cadence, pace, etc.) accurately makes running that much more enjoyable. We all know that when things are enjoyable, we’re more likely to do them. Another pro of treadmill running comes from the cushioned treadmill belt and its effects on your joints over time. With the proper incline set (1%-1.5% at paces around 7min/mile) you’ll experience the same physiological effects on a treadmill that you would running under similar conditions outside, except you won’t be pounding pavement mile after mile.

Outside Pros:

It’s hard to beat the feeling of running in the fresh air with beautiful surroundings to keep your senses occupied. That’s one advantage that running out on the open road will always have over the treadmill. The positive mental/emotional element of heading out the door with your pair of shoes and shorts is hard to beat. An added pro of running outside is the variety of courses and conditions that you’ll face. This allows for a more well-rounded development of the running toolbox. Conditions range from different running surfaces to wind and weather, to simply the natural turns, inclines and declines that you’ll work with or against during your outdoor run. All of this variety makes for a generally unpredictable run, continuing to fine-tune your senses and instincts.

Treadmill Cons:

The monotony of running every day on a treadmill can be draining. The risk of burnout as a runner due to this monotony is real. Without elements of variety and varied entertainment, running can become dull and lose its fun. Let’s be honest, most people are not able to get through a run if there isn’t some level of enjoyment. Another con of treadmill running is the risk of overdoing it with your training and subsequently building a false sense of speed, strength, and fitness. On a treadmill you’re less likely to do a proper warmup, falling into the habit of simply pressing all the buttons and diving right in. You also may feel, due to a lack of conditions (wind, hills, etc.), that you can run longer and faster on a treadmill. This approach, run as far and fast as possible, can lead to overtraining and negatively effect your performance. 

Outside Cons:

While a treadmill may lead you to overdo it, facing the great unknown and the outdoors can lead to a runner under-training. When training gets hard and motivation wanes, running on the open road allows for significantly more excuses to cut training short or not do it at all. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. There’s rain in the forecast. Bears exist! All of this reasoning can be just what your brain needs to decide on skipping one or more days of effective training. There’s also much less control outside than inside on a treadmill. It’s harder to hit specific metrics, and track your results when you have to deal with large uphills and downhills, big turns, and overly busy/packed running paths. If you’re looking for exact interval splits or to nail a perfectly consistent pace mile after mile, the open road may just throw a wrench into your plans.

Running Outside vs. the Treadmill: 5 Tips to Maximize Your Training

Running outside can be key to your training variety!

1. Learn and control your running environment:

You don’t have to run exactly the same route outside every day. However, repeat select courses enough to know its intricacies. This way you can be prepared for them when looking to truly manage specific run/workout metrics.

2. Use the treadmill as a supplement:

Keep your interest in the sport and activity of running high. Don’t solely rely on the treadmill for your mileage and workouts. Even a 50/50 split during the week between the treadmill and the open road will suffice. It’ll keep your training enthusiasm high while providing options for all possible environmental conditions. 

3. Recognize the differences:

If training primarily on a treadmill for a road 5K, be sure to recognize the differences between the two. While a PR pace on a treadmill may seem like a breeze, remind yourself of all the factors that can effect pacing when outside. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to be proud of a hard-fought and successful race. Even if you’re just a bit off pace from what you do on the treadmill.

4. Mechanics, mechanics, mechanics:

If you are training with combined treadmill and open road running, you need to put a bit of extra focus on your running mechanics. Transitioning your body safely from running on a revolving rubber belt to concrete or even dirt takes work. Make sure that you increase your strength, flexibility, and mobility training. Constructively analyze, or have a coach analyze, your running form so that you can make necessary corrections. This will take any unnecessary strain off your joints and tendons each and every training day.

5. Always find the fun:

No matter what your personal preference, treadmill or open road, always find the fun no matter where you’re running! You should love the moment each day that you get to lace up your shoes and get to work. Find ways to make it enjoyable even when hard. Remind yourself each time that running is a choice, not a requirement, and you should feel happy to make the choice!

Want to make the most of your training whether outdoors or on a treadmill? Sign up for Charge Running and get live, personalized, professional coaching no matter where you’re running! 

Comments 2

Anonymous · July 20, 2020
Great article w great tips, thank you
Coach Casey · July 26, 2020
Thank you! Happy to know you got some great tips out of it. Be sure to check out all of our other blog posts covering a wide range of subjects!

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