This is a common question and one that often divides opinion. Some people love the freedom of running outside and wouldn’t dream of stepping foot on a treadmill whilst other hate running outside in the wind and rain and much prefer to pound the treadmill.
Put simply, science has proven that whichever way you prefer is just as effective and, with some basic adjustments, it’s possible to make running on a treadmill almost identical to running outside. Here, we’ve compiled a list of the differences between road running and running on a treadmill and which one may be better suited to you.
Running on a treadmill
The main difference when using a treadmill is that the belt is moving, which helps propel you forwards therefor making it easier, while you’re also protected from the weather as well. As such, researchers have advised setting the incline to 1-1.5% to balance out both these factors and put your body under the same stress as if you were running outside.
As you progress through your training regime, you may find that some types of training sessions are easier to do on the treadmill rather than measuring and planning everything outside. This includes sprint intervals and hill training, which are great on a treadmill as you can measure exactly what you are going to do and, indeed have already done.
Similarly, while on a treadmill you can also adjust the incline to replicate those that you’ll find on the actual course you’re intending to run on, something that is nigh-on impossible to do outside unless you are training on the actual course. However, on a treadmill you cannot train for things like road camber, running surface, air temperature and direction changes such as dodging past other runners or shape corners.
Lastly, running can put a lot of pressure on the body – in particular the knees and hips – and running on the road can add to this as the road surface has no shock absorbing properties. Treadmill running beds are, however, designed to absorb some of the impact and can be gentler on the body which can be great if you are clocking up lots of miles each month, or if you have a bit of an injury that you don’t want to make any worse.
Running gadgets and fitness trackers are so much more common now than ever before with access to instant feedback and tracking running outside has never been so easy. Gone are the days of planning out a measuring every route and working out pace per km it’s all done for you. This means some of the benefit that a treadmill once had over outdoor running has disappeared.
Secondly, it’s recommended that, if you are training for an outdoor event you should aim to do the majority of your training outside if possible. There is no better way to mimic a race than running on the correct terrain. Off road running is completely different to road racing or indoor (treadmill) triathlon style events.
For every up there is a down! Running downhill can be harder than running up hill in some cases, due to the extra pressure on the knees and the requirement to keep at a good pace. Very few treadmills have decline settings, so getting your body used to this can be difficult if you run exclusively inside.
However, what most people complain about being on a treadmill is that it can get rather tedious. Every km can feel like 10km, which makes the workout session feel really long and tedious.
The most important factor of any run you may take on – whether it’s indoors on a treadmill, or you’re out pounding the pavements is that you need to enjoy it. Without enjoying it, you’ll never manage to stay motivated and it’s much less likely that you’ll stick to your training plan and reach your goal.