In the timeless debate of what is better, running outside or on a treadmill, we know plenty of runners that have strong opinions on both. In the midst of those opinions, understanding the benefits and detriments to both will help you decide where you fall in the great debate.
There Is No Wrong Answer
First of all, there is no right or wrong way to run. In fact, ¿porque no los dos? (Why don’t we have both?) While both have pros and cons, using them together will result in a well-rounded workout routine for more strenuous activities – half marathons or just to get your daily cardio in for the day. Let’s dive in and break down the benefits for each modality.
The benefits of running on a treadmill
If you are training, new to running, or if it’s just a rainy day outside, this is the equipment for you. Treadmills give you the opportunity to run in a completely controlled setting. You have the power to control how fast you want to go, for how long, at what incline, and how to manage your recovery time.
The treadmill is also much softer on your joints. One reason is because the treadmill belt assists leg turnover, making it easier to run faster. This is also why most runners argue that their speed on the treadmill does not correlate with their speed outdoors. The belt assists your legs to move at the pace it is set to, therefore your speed will be different running on a treadmill versus your road pace.
One study published in 2013 found that out of 27 runners analyzed and depending on speed, running on a treadmill reduces “running on a treadmill reduces the maximum pressure on the foot—especially the heel of the foot—by about 26 to 32 percent” compared to running on the ground.
With all of this in mind, use the treadmill as a training tool. Because of the controlled settings and mitigation from joints, use it to your advantage to work on your speed. Treadmills can help you run faster by speeding up the pace for short intervals, and slowing it down for recovery intervals. Eventually, this will correlate over to your road pace.
The benefits of running outdoors
Some runners will argue that there is nothing better than getting up and out to hit the road and run with the wind in your face. You won’t ever get that with a machine, right? While their argument seems is true if you want some fresh air, running against the wind will also build your endurance strength.
Scientists explain that you get more muscle activation outside because your body has to react to the ground in different ways. The variety of surfaces you hit while running means different muscles are working with each step. Your foot grabs the ground to propel you into the next step, as opposed to a treadmill that does most of that work with the belt constantly moving. You can also activate more muscles outside because of the way you are running. On a treadmill, you run in a complete linear pattern – one foot in front of the other – which can often lead to smaller strides. Outdoor running contains obstacles for every person; for example, hopping over curbs, moving around pedestrians in your path, or dodging that mysterious pile of garbage someone never cleaned up in the street.
There are also benefits to just physically being outside. The sun in your face, wind in your hair, and breathing the fresh air alone can make an individual happier long term. Research suggests “running outside delivers a bigger energy boost and results in less tension, anger, and depression compared to running inside.”
Where injuries come into play
If you only run inside, certain muscles may not getting the conditioning they need for when you do eventually get outdoors to run. You can also suffer an injury by overworking a particular muscle or bone in the same predictable pattern.
If you only run outside, pounding the pavement constantly can be hard on your joints. If you do not provide strength training to your legs, you can also run the risk of injury by not providing the base strength you need to withstand the ground reaction forces.
Whether you are a beginner or preparing for a marathon, or coming off of an injury, running remains a great option to keep your muscles conditioned and healthy. With a mixture of both running inside and outside, you can train the muscles properly to enjoy a run in any terrain you enjoy. Still not sure which method is right for you to focus on? Make an appointment with our expert physical therapists to find out what running regimen is best for you.