Is it better to run on a treadmill or outdoors?

Are you one of those who prefer the wind blowing in your face and the sounds of nature around you while you train? Or nothing beats the comfort of going to the gym? Whether you are from one team or the other, you probably have the same goal as the others: making the most of your training routine.

Because the treadmill was designed as a simulation of outdoor jogging – the commercial and industrial option – the benefits of both are very close to being the same, in fact, from a wellness point of view physicist and psychologist both options can be valid; however, from a slightly more practical perspective, there are some aspects of both types of exercise that need to be discussed.

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What are the differences between running on a treadmill or outdoors?

Certainly, without adjusting the incline or the proper speed, running on a treadmill is much easier than doing it outdoors. The biggest difference between the two practices is that while running on a treadmill, the treadmill moves under your feet, so you don’t need to put pressure on the ground. In the case of running, you must fight against the resistance of the wind to carry your body forward at a certain speed.

According to studies carried out in 1996 published in the Journal of Sport Sciences , the lack of air resistance reduces the energy cost of any race by a good percentage. However, it is not an issue that cannot be easily balanced. The researchers, working with a group of men who trained on treadmills, found that it is possible to equalize the air resistance of an outdoor run – as long as it is on flat surfaces – by adjusting at least 1% of the degree of tape tilt .

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Is the treadmill better or running outdoors?

1. Advantages of the treadmill

1.1 Shock absorption

Treadmills have come a long way since that first device invented in the 1960s. Currently, not only do they come preoccupied with various automatic options to adjust the routine to your needs, but they are designed to absorb the direct impact on your joints and muscles.

1.2 Height training

Not everyone lives near hills or mountains. In that case, a treadmill is the best alternative for those who want to simulate hill workouts to make their body stronger. Thanks to the treadmill you can have a personalized incline at the touch of a button and without leaving your comfort zone.

1.3 The climate

You don’t have to worry about rain or snowfall. Even if the weather conditions are very adverse, you can train comfortably on the treadmill. In addition, because the environment inside the gym is properly heated, you will not have to wear extra clothes to keep warm, which would translate into less resistance to fight against when running.

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2. Advantages of running outdoors

2.1 Visual impact

After various studies in the field of psychology, it is scientifically proven that the human being reacts to the images around him. In this way, the more dynamic the environments where we run, the more comfortable the body will feel facing a physical activity.

2.2 Variety of options on surfaces and routes

You can train on flat or sloping surfaces, with paved or dirt ground, etc. This reduces the risk of possible injury, since the same movement is not repeated all the time, in addition to allowing the body to work various muscle groups.

2.3 You will never be bored

In addition to stimuli from the environment — the breeze, the sounds of the environment, etc. — this practice is fun because of its variable character. There will never be two equal sessions. Running watching TV in the gym cannot be compared to a walk in the real world.

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In which cases is it better to choose a treadmill for running?

1. Training for a race

Deciding between training for a run on a treadmill or outdoors will depend on your personal goals. If you are preparing for a marathon or a run through the mountains, your body definitely needs to know how to adapt to the environment. “If you train for a marathon, you have to make sure that part of your training takes place on the pavement. So your body will know what to expect on race day, ”recommends Hannah Schultz, a professional sports training coach.

On the other hand, if you are interested in increasing your speed, the treadmill is the right option for you. You can use it to raise or lower the incline at will, as well as to challenge your body to gradually increase the pace.

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2. Training after coming out of an injury

When you are injured, the main thing is to make sure that the surface you are training on does not make the situation worse. The treadmill offers not only a controlled and adjustable experience, but also the absorption of the shock of exercise. Keith McDonald, an elite professional sports coach, recommends it as an excellent rehabilitation tool to reactivate physical activities safely .

However, many experts also consider that running on grass provides a smooth surface, perfect for rehabilitation. According to a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Sport Sciences, running on grass considerably reduces the level of muscular stress compared to other surfaces such as pavement.

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3. Improve running technique

While running on a treadmill, you just adjust the machine and forget about that task. However, learning to pace naturally is one of the most important parts of training for a runner. When we run in the open air, our mind must fulfill the functions of the system: find a constant pace throughout the journey and be able to maintain it, or in any case, speed it up if necessary. Achieving this is essential to be able to complete long distances in adequate times.

How to make treadmill training more fun?

Running on a treadmill does not have to be torture, as there are ways, beyond music or television in the gym, to make this practice much more interesting. In this case, Keith McDonald recommends doing short intervals of very high-speed runs — 30 to 40 seconds — between cooldowns, which can be light jogs or 10 to 15 minute walks. This type of training will take your body to another level, being much more effective than just running at a constant time throughout the routine.

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In the end, it’s all about what best suits your needs and naturally likes you. You can go for your long stretches around the park or have your long sessions on the treadmill, as long as you enjoy it. However, before making a final decision – and probably exclusive, it is recommended to combine both practices: take your time in the gym, but find at least once a week a long and enjoyable route to teach your body to deal with variable environments, Why limit yourself to getting just the benefits of one, when you can have both?


  • Braverman, Jody. Which Is Better: Running Outdoors or on a Treadmill ?. For Livestrong [Revised July 2016].