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Running on a treadmill vs. outdoors

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

Running on the treadmill is easier than running outdoors, for a variety of reasons. One reason is that the treadmill belt assists leg turnover, making it easier to run faster. So most runners find that their pace on the treadmill doesn't correlate to their road pace. ... However, the treadmill can be a great training tool.

How does running on a treadmill compare to running outside? Is one easier than the other?

It’s a common question and despite conflicting opinions, scientific research has shown that running on the treadmill is roughly the same as running outside if you make a few simple adjustments.

In fact, there are some types of workouts you can do better on a treadmill than you can outside.

However, running on a treadmill does have its disadvantages, and for some runners, a mile on the “hamster wheel” feels like ten miles outdoors.

So, in this article, I’m going to show you the potential benefits and negatives of treadmill running, help you adjust your workouts to make treadmill running equivalent to logging miles outdoors, and give you some tips to make treadmill running more “enjoyable” when it’s necessary.

What is the difference between running outside and on a treadmill?

We need to find out if running outside is better for us than running on a treadmill, or is it the other way around?

On one hand, with a treadmill, the belt is moving under you and there is no wind resistance for your body to counter, so it should be easier to run.

Theoretically, you could jump up and down on a treadmill and it would record that you’re running at whatever speed the belt is moving.

Outside, your legs have to propel your motion forward while pushing through the resulting wind resistance (however minor it may be).

Luckily, scientific research has proven that setting the treadmill to a 1% grade accurately reflects the energy costs and simulates outdoor running.

Therefore, by setting the treadmill to a 1% grade, you can offset the lack of wind resistance and the belt moving under you to make treadmill running the same effort as running outdoors.

Corroborating research has shown that VO2 max is the same when running on a treadmill compared to outside, clearly demonstrating that running on a treadmill is as effective as running outside.

Furthermore, research reveals that bio-mechanical patterns did not change when test subjects ran on a treadmill versus when they ran outside.

We can decisively conclude that running on a treadmill has the same effect as running outside when running at a 1% grade.

When is it better to run on a treadmill than outside?

Because we now know that running outside and running on the treadmill are basically the same at a 1% grade, we can identify the specific workouts or instances when running on a treadmill might actually be better than running outside.

When the weather and footing are bad

This is the most obvious benefit of treadmill running, but it’s important to include because elements effect every runner differently.

Personally, I have a very difficult time when it’s hot or there is bad footing; however, put me on a clear road on a cold or rainy day and I’m a machine.

You may be the opposite, so don’t be afraid to hit the treadmill on the days you need to.

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