Treadmill or Running Outside: Which is Best?

Exercising outside can be a challenge in the middle of summer when temperatures peak. If you’re a runner, hitting the pavement in the heat and humidity is sure to provide a workout. But what if you take your run inside onto a treadmill? Do you benefit the same? Is it the same workout?

“Both treadmill running and outdoor running provide great benefits to health and fitness levels,” said Marcela Todd, a certified Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) running coach and head coach of Friends In Training, a community partner of Baptist Health South Florida that helps runners train for marathons. “They both help to manage weight, relieve stress, prevent depression, boost confidence, keep cholesterol and blood pressure levels normal and are a great way to stay healthy overall.”

Deciding which to use depends on an individual’s fitness goals, Ms. Todd says. In general, running for fitness lends itself best to a treadmill, while running outside is best for race training.

“Outdoor running is a must if you are training for an endurance event or outdoor race as you need to familiarize yourself with how your body is going to feel out there,” said Ms. Todd. “You need to train in the same weather conditions, wind direction and the heat or the cold.”

Treadmill Running

On the other hand, running on a treadmill has its own unique benefits, such as:

  • The treadmill is always available and in a controlled environment. Weather outside that’s too hot or rainy, or the time of day, doesn’t prevent you from working out.
  • It’s easier to keep your pace where you want it to be, enabling the runner to more easily measure distance, heart rate and calories burned on most treadmills.
  • You can watch TV or videos to fight boredom during your run.

Running Outside

There are other advantages that running outside provides:

  • Stimulates race or endurance event conditions. You’ll be better prepared for running in different temperatures, wind conditions, around curves and up and down hills.
  • Beats boredom, especially when running long distances. The colors, people and scenery you see make for an interesting run.
  • Exposure to vitamin D.
  • Being outdoors helps lift mood and prevent depression.
  • Provides a harder workout. You have to carry your own weight when propelling yourself forward.

Ms. Todd adds that treadmill runners can simulate outdoor running by increasing the incline on the treadmill 1 to 2 percent. And if you are training for a hilly event, you can simulate a race course on the treadmill by using the incline when you know the course has hills coming up, she says. However, for endurance and long runs, the treadmill will get boring fast as you run in place for a long period of time.

Safety is an Issue

One thing to keep in mind when running outdoors is safety.

“If you are running in the dark, be sure to wear reflective gear and running lights so people can see you coming,” Ms. Todd advises. “Be careful crossing roads, and wear headphones only in one ear so you can be aware of what’s going on around you.”

Depending on your fitness goals, you can utilize indoor and outdoor running together accordingly.

In addition, you can enjoy a combination of both indoor and outdoor running as not all runs are created equal. You can do easy pace runs, tempo runs, and fun intervals using both, and leave the long run for the great outdoors.

When combining both types of running, Ms. Todd recommends two days a week on the treadmill and running outside three days a week.

“The beauty of combining both types of running is that each workout will be different,” said Ms. Todd.


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