FAQ: Treadmill vs. Outdoor Running
Running on a treadmill is a convenient way to maintain your cardiovascular fitness in the comfort of your home or at a gym. Whether you are just starting out or completing your second marathon, a running regimen makes you vulnerable to injuries. Keeping safety in mind, our team answered the most common questions frequently asked by runners and patients.
What do most people prefer when it comes to running: outside or on a treadmill?
One of the great benefits of running is the simplicity of it. You can lace up your shoes and enjoy the great outdoors. While most runners tend to prefer the fresh air, certain circumstances do not always allow for outdoor running, making treadmills a popular alternative.
What are the benefits of running outside?
- Therapeutic benefit of being outside and in nature
- The natural variety of the terrain and incline adds training and musculoskeletal advantages
- The opportunity to run with a buddy or connect with a group, like Runners Forum
- The freedom to slow down when needed, without having to hit the "button of failure"
What are the benefits of running on a treadmill?
- The safety of not being exposed to outdoor threats and shielded from danger during night runs
- Consistency of the treadmill’s availability during all seasons and inclement weather
- More gentle on joints due to the built-in shock absorbency
- No unforeseen obstacles
- Provides a place to improve pace and cadence training
When should individuals run outside?
Running often results in common overuse injuries due to the repetitive nature of the sport. If you log a good amount of treadmill miles and start experiencing pain you should first rest and decrease mileage, but you may also consider the benefit of the outdoors and not just running on a straight and flat surface. If you are training for an event, running outdoors is mandatory to acclimate your muscles, joints and lungs to the elements for race day.
Is treadmill running considered bad?
No, some may say it’s boring or torturous, but not “bad”. Treadmill running does have some effect on running form by causing a natural increased cadence and does assist with leg turnover (the process of moving one’s own leg). However, the treadmill remains a valuable training tool and offers major benefits.
When should you use a treadmill?
Consider using the treadmill for shorter runs and interval training runs. If you are prone to joint pain, treadmills provide a great alternative for runners to minimize the impact on their joints.
How can people run on a treadmill the ‘right way?’
We are cautious to say there is a “right way” to run in general. However, there are associations with poor running mechanics and running injuries that do lead many to believe there are “wrong ways” to run. These running mechanic errors can occur running outdoors or on a treadmill.
How can people avoid injuries from running on a treadmill?
The treadmill is a great place to work on form, foot strike pattern and shock attenuation by landing quietly. It also offers a great place to watch your run in a mirror or reflection. (Don’t fall! Make sure the mirror is straight ahead). You can also avoid injury by not committing too many runs to treadmill runs verses the outdoors. (Especially if you are in a higher volume portion of your training).
Can you share a simple plan on how you believe runners should approach treadmill running?
- Running on a treadmill can be approached very similar to running outdoors.
- Use dynamic stretching and dynamic warm up drills before running
- Start at a slower pace or even with a walk
- Become familiar with the mechanics and the feel of the machine
- Do not ramp up in speed or distance too quickly. You can accomplish this by starting with a walk/run combination and slowly build up time into constant running.
What is an example of a more advanced treadmill running plan?
Even those familiar with treadmill running still need to warm up. Be sure to include shorter speed runs or interval running to the mix, versus racking up high miles on a treadmill. As far as a “plan” goes, it is not recommended to follow an exclusive treadmill running plan due to the many benefits of outdoor training.
Are inclines dangerous?
Having a variety of inclines woven throughout the run are beneficial. However, prolonged inclines change running mechanics to forefoot running and increase load on intrinsic foot and Achilles soft tissues. This can cause an increased risk of an overuse/tendinous injury, regardless of warming up.
Does footwear matter when running outside? On a treadmill?
Footwear, or the lack thereof, always has to be a consideration. Running outdoors typically will require more protection and may demand more cushioning for runners than running on a treadmill. Be aware, too cushioned of a shoe can enable a runner to crash harder on their heels and lead to more wear and tear on their joints. Our partner, Runners Forum would be a great asset to visit to invest in a new shoe.
There is a significant benefit to having your running form assessed by a biomechanical specialist that is familiar with running mechanics. This can help you reduce your risk of an overuse injury and help you navigate mobility issues, strength deficits, running form corrections or even footwear recommendations. Our Run Fit Program is the perfect program to invest in to understand your running mechanics and gait analysis.