Which is better, running on a treadmill vs outside?
There truly isn’t one correct answer.
Which is better will significantly depend on each runner’s objectives, goals, and specific needs and conditions.
Both options have a long list of pros and cons, which will be discussed in this article.
In the end, you can be the judge and make the best decision for yourself.
Ready to debate?
Here are our 20 Pros and Cons of Treadmill vs outside for you to make up your mind!
To start off, let’s take a look at the pros of running on a treadmill.
Treadmill vs Outside: The Pros and cons
The 5 Treadmill Running Pros
Having a treadmill at home is highly convenient for anyone with a busy schedule. You can run anytime, day or night, and plan your training session for when they are suitable for you.
If you need to take care of kids, you’ll be there, wait for the plumber, you’ll be there, receive a delivery, you’ll be there! You won’t have to worry about missing a beat while training at home.
In addition, you don’t have to be concerned about bad weather, traffic, stoplights, or running in the dark, and are able to run in a comfortable, controlled environment at all times.
To try and pass the time, you have a variety of entertainment options from the comfort of your own home. Watch a movie or series you’ve been dying to get to or tune into a podcast or audiobook.
Some treadmills even have course features to choose a famous route to follow, like the New York marathon, where you virtually run alongside others.
#3 Data Tracking
On a treadmill, there is no need to wear a watch and constantly look down to check your data. Instead, most of your essential stats will be projected on the screen in front of you: distance, pace, time, and in some cases, even your heart rate.
You can easily track your progress just by looking ahead.
Working at a constant, specific pace is easier to do on a treadmill than running outside.
You simply plug in the pace you want to maintain throughout your workout on the treadmill and go.
There won’t be any obstacles in your way, such as wind resistance or oppressive heat that may slow you down, and you won’t all of a sudden change your pace without realizing it.
It will keep you in check; the only tricky part will be keeping up with it!
Related: The 5 Best Curved Treadmills On The Market Right Now
#5 Less Impact
Most treadmills have a cushioned band that absorbs impact as you run, causing less wear and tear on your joints.
If you have a machine that allows it, increase the incline by a degree or two to decrease impact even more. This also makes the running conditions a bit more similar to being outside, studies have shown.
Take advantage of the comfortable running conditions and practice your form and cadence while you’re at it.
Now that we have the pros, let’s take a look at some of the negative aspects of running on a treadmill:
Related: How To Run On A Treadmill: Basics, Benefits + 5 Fun Workouts To Try
Treadmill vs Outside: Treadmill Running Cons
#1 Limiting Variables for Race Training
Running on a treadmill can be a great way to just get in shape; however, it will not be beneficial when training for a specific race.
One of the important components of training for a race is simulating its conditions.
If you are running on a treadmill, it makes it much more challenging to do so as you cannot change terrain, make turns, or simulate hills properly, depending on the machine you have access to.
If you are a trail runner, treadmill training is even less helpful as terrain plays a big part in your conditioning.
Skills such as balance, coordination, proprioception, just to name a few, will not be conditioned on a treadmill as they are on the trails.
Related: 9 Tips For Marathon Training On A Treadmill
#2 Unreliable Hillwork
Most treadmills have an incline option, but the max varies from machine to machine.
There are treadmills that reach a 30% incline, but those are far and few between. Some more elaborate treadmills also have a decline option, but it is often limited to 3%.
Depending on the race you are preparing for, you may need more options to train appropriately.
Training for downhills to get those quads accustomed to the impact or more extreme uphill running may not be possible on a treadmill.
#3 Lagging Changes
While consistent pace training can be advantageous on a treadmill, quick-changing speedwork is not.
The machines take time to change speeds, gradually ramping up and ramping down as the new speed is punched into the keypad.
This can make some speedwork sessions tricky to complete as expected.
Also, depending on how fast you are, treadmills have a limit, and older ones, an even slower limit, so you may not be able to work at the fast paces you desire.
#4 Pace Problems
Even though you may have mastered your paces on the treadmill, reproducing that work outside may be complicated.
If you are accustomed to plugging in your pace and going, you may not be able to maintain that pace when you have to set it yourself.
Part of pace training is understanding the effort needed to set a certain pace and knowing what that feels like. This becomes difficult when you are used to it being set for you.
While for some, being able to entertain yourself at home may be fun, for others, running on a treadmill vs outside can be monotonous.
There is no scenery to look at to stimulate your brain or fresh air to take in.
Running on a treadmill can become tedious, perhaps to the point where you don’t even enjoy it anymore.
Are you formulating your opinion yet? Let’s check out the other half of the information: the pros and cons of running outside.
Treadmill vs Outside: Running Outside Pros
#1 Route Variability
So many options, so little time!
When running outside, you can take advantage of the variety of options at your fingertips.
Look for different routes to explore, new places to go, and new terrains to take on. You can easily switch up your courses to keep yourself motivated and entertained.
#2 Race Specific Training
If you are training for a specific race, you can look for similar conditions to simulate it to prepare for race day.
Don’t only focus on terrain, weather, altitude, and course type (point to point, out and back, etc.)
Running outside makes it easy to run with others.
Look for company, someone to chat with while you train, or even a running group to join.
It’s entertaining and inspiring to run in groups. You can push each other along, help out when the going gets tough, and they can help you in return.
The running community is a fun bunch, all working towards similar goals, so share the experience with others. It’s much harder to do that when running on a treadmill vs outside!
#4 Fresh Air
You may have to deal with some poor weather and traffic at times, but there’s nothing better than getting out there and breathing in some fresh air.
Getting outside and relishing your surroundings and nature can make your runs much more enjoyable and exciting.
It will also help reduce stress and anxiety, and you’ll even sneak in a bit of vitamin D.
#5 It’s Free
Stepping out your front door and taking off is free!
You don’t have to worry about buying an expensive piece of equipment or paying a monthly gym fee.
Treadmill vs Outside: Running Outside Cons
Depending on where you live, you may run into a lot of traffic.
City running isn’t easy as you need to watch out for cars and get held up at a lot of traffic lights. This may put a damper on your workout and your specific paces.
Because of traffic, you may not even be able to use headphones, as you need to be alert to your surroundings to avoid incidents.
Traffic is not the only safety obstacle while running outdoors.
If your schedule is not flexible, you may only have specific times to fit in your workouts. If that means extra early in the morning or in the evenings, running in the dark may be your only option.
If you don’t have a safe, well-lit area nearby, your chances to train outdoors may be limited.
#3 Threatening Weather
The weather could also be a limitation depending on where you live.
Some seasons may not permit a lot of outdoor running due to ice, snow, or torrential rains. Specific gear will be needed for the cold, and extra care must be taken to avoid a slip and fall.
On the other hand, hot and humid temperatures have risks such as heat stroke or dehydration. Extra precautions must be taken if running in this type of weather to stay healthy and safe.
#4 High Impact
Running on asphalt is a high-impact sport and can wear on your knees, hips, and back.
No matter how perfect your technique is and how soft your running shoes are, running on the road will always bang you up more than running on a soft, impact-absorbing treadmill.
On a treadmill, you can punch in the exact pace you want to run at and go, but when running outside, you need to work harder at it.
You need to gauge the pace yourself, constantly check your watch to be sure you’re on track, and even then, you can still be off.
Factors such as a glitchy GPS, the weather, or obstacles in the road can stop you from reaching your desired training paces.
We’ve seen both sides, had our treadmill vs outside debate; now it’s time for you to be the judge. What have you decided?
2 thoughts on “Running on a Treadmill vs Outside, Which is Better?”
My biggest problem with treadmills is pacing.
When I go out on the road (on my own) I always end up going out too fast and burning up quicker than I ought to, whereas on a treadmill you set the pace and it keep at that pace) – It is something I’m going to have to master as there are very few runners where I am and find it really difficult to find a running partner as I think this would really help?
What about running with a GPS watch so you can track your pace?