Running On A Treadmill vs Outside – What’s The Difference?

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Last Updated: July 21, 2023

There’s nothing worse than the sweltering dog days of Summer or the nasty cold, wet days of Winter to throw off your running routine. The logical answer to this dilemma is to head indoors, but that limits your choices.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an indoor space to accommodate your routine, great! If not, you’ll need to find an indoor running track or purchase a treadmill for yourself. But do you get as good of a workout running on a treadmill as you would outdoors? Let’s take a look.

Treadmill Running vs Running Outside

Out And About-Running Outside

Imagine a time before the fitness craze–before gyms were popular, let alone treadmills. Most of us can’t remember that far back. But to get some cardio, no option was cheaper and more available to us than strapping on a pair of sneakers and heading out the front door.

Pros Of Outdoor Running

  • Availability-The outdoors is universally available and costs nothing to use.
  • Variety– With an ever-changing landscape around as you run, it cranks up the entertainment factor and makes for an enjoyable experience. You can choose a different route every time out if you like or settle into a favorite.
  • Nature– Bolstered by the fresh air, being out in nature and amongst the greenery is a major plus. Not just for the beauty aspects, either. Sunshine promotes good mental health and vitamin D production.
  • Challenge– The uneven landscape outdoors will require the use of a variety of muscles to maintain your pace and keep you headed to your destination.

Cons Of Outdoor Running

  • Climate– Ideally, you want to run in comfortable dry weather, but that is virtually impossible when exercising outdoors. Running in cold weather can be as dangerous as heading out on a super humid day.
  • Safety– Depending on where you live and choose to run, security can be a significant factor. The time of day impacts lighting along your route, so that’s a factor. Traffic and the possibility of happening upon unsavory citizens/animals is also a concern.
  • Pit Stops– We’ve all been there. Out on that epic run, and suddenly you need to stop because you need a restroom. That’s uncomfortable.

Welcome Indoor Treadmills

This is where modern technology meets modern-day athletes. With the flip of a switch, you’re off and burning those calories without even leaving the house. There are many treadmills available, from a powered belt type to entirely step-driven models, but the accessibility is the same. Step on, step forward and go. Different types of treadmills provide different training variables but some of the best treadmills we test have a plethora of training options to keep you moving.

Pros Of Treadmill Running

  • Convenience– No need to worry about the time of day or temperature because you are indoors. You set the climate to your liking and get to running whenever you feel the itch.
  • Variation– Most treadmills offer many controls to make your run as varied as you’d like. From precisely setting a pace to incline and interval training, you can set it and forget it. This is especially useful when working towards goals.
  • Gadgets– Everyone likes running stats, and treadmills will satisfy that desire. You can watch your pace, check interval times, heart rate, and calorie burn. There is no need to check your watch, just a glance at the display, and you have all you need to track those goals.
  • Shock Absorption– This may be the most significant advantage for runners who use a treadmill to supplement outdoor running or use one exclusively. Running inherently is tough on joints, and asphalt will work against you with every step. Treadmills have impact cushioning belts which take away a portion of the pounding, leaving your ankle, knee, and hip joints less stressed after a run.
  • Heart Health– The ability to regulate and set a steady-state cardio speed is especially great for those with cardiovascular issues or high cholesterol.
  • Weight Loss– Treadmill running can burn an average of 100 calories per mile, so it’s easy to set goals with a targeted calorie burn. If you need to burn 400 calories, you know exactly how far you need to walk/run.
  • iFit and related programs– iFit gives you trainer-influenced interactive sessions on a treadmill. This technology is available on NordicTrack, Pro-Form, and FreeMotion treadmills. If you’re unsure what to do, iFit and other programs like it help take out the guesswork.
  • Prevents Injury– No worries about stepping in a hole, twisting an ankle on a sidewalk, or tripping over roots.

Cons Of Treadmill Running

  • Lack of Variety– Indoor running lacks the variety of a changing landscape, but this can be remedied by viewing television or using a built-in treadmill screen with simulated routes. Some bikes come with iFit or similar programs that keep you engaged and energized.
  • Less Muscle Recruitment– With a constant pace or even with variation, running on the treadmill will require fewer supporting muscles since you’ll be moving in a consistently straight line and not needing to hop curbs or avoid other obstacles. Some resistance training can easily make up for this.
  • Money– Treadmills are not free. And a high-quality treadmill will cost more. But a care plan and warranty will go a long way to providing you with years of indoor training.

Running On A Treadmill vs. Outside: The Bottom Line

Whatever your level of fitness, sometimes running outside doesn’t work. Treadmills are an option that keeps you moving forward no matter what’s going on outside. Both indoor and outdoor running are tremendous and offer the opportunity to improve your cardiovascular health.

For most, it comes down to balancing convenience and cost. You can join a gym and use their treadmill, which is much less convenient than buying your own. Outdoor running has its hidden costs, like the attire you’ll need to run in all weather conditions, as well as how quickly footwear needs replacing because of abrasive surfaces.

Wherever you choose to run, keep it up, stay safe, and cardio strong! Your heart will thank you.