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Head to head race: Treadmill versus outdoor running


Running is the faster than walking action when both feet never touch the ground at the same time. But let’s look at that “ground” component. When it comes to torching calories, improving sports performance, and enjoyment, which is the preferred surface under those feet: the treadmill or the pavement?

Photo by Sonja Hults

Your running stride is actually different on the treadmill versus outdoors. The treadmill is machine powered while outdoors is self-powered. The main muscle used on a treadmill to propel each stride is the quadricep, but outdoors, the hamstrings actually produce the forward movement. The treadmill does the work of the hamstrings for you. This means the quads are working overtime on the machine.

The treadmill is a consistently smooth path. Outdoor terrain depends on your course. Therefore, the muscles of the legs are challenged differently, especially the ankle complex on an outdoor surface that is constantly changing.

Wind resistance is also a consideration. “Running against the wind” slows the pace. To compensate for this added difficulty the treadmill can be set to an incline of about 1.5 or higher.

There are pros and cons to each type. Treadmill use isn’t seasonal. Watching T.V. or videos can provide entertainment during. The joints appreciate the even surface. Indoor has the element of safety and can be done morning, noon, or night.

Outdoor running can take place anywhere. The world is your route. There’s scenery, fresh air, and nature. In general, outdoor running is harder and burns more calories (this certainly depends on effort level) and the body is doing all the work. New courses and destinations are enjoyable and so many people are cooped up inside that is nice to have a change in “pace”…. Good old vitamin D therapy.

When it comes down to which is “better”, the answer would be individualized based on goals, heart rate, and rate of perceived exertion (RPE). However, keep in mind that the same pace on the treadmill is not the same pace outdoors. Recreational running versus training for an event would influence the run surface choice. The treadmill can track speed, calories burned (approximately), and distance. For others, watching the clock is a grueling way to do cardio. The functionality of the treadmill lets the person speed up, slow down, and add incline as needed.

So when it comes to the treadmill vs. outdoors: The leader of this debatable race pushes forward, but then falls back. The cameras have to be reviewed because there is no clear winner.

In a head to head race, the treadmill versus outdoor running is truly a matter of personal preference. The Lifestyle of the FIT and Healthy incorporates cardiovascular activity into their workout regime. Whether slow or fast, uphill or downhill, far or near, run the route that suits your body best.