If you have been dividing your time between running on a treadmill and running outdoors, you may begin to wonder which method provides the best workout. While there are some differences between running outdoors and using a treadmill, both modalities provide heart-healthy aerobic exercise and are beneficial for overall health and wellness.
Using a Treadmill
Because treadmills can be used indoors, they are available 24 hours a day. You don’t have to worry about exposure to adverse weather, and if you suffer from seasonal allergies, running on a treadmill can provide you with a balanced workout without exposure to allergens. Running on a treadmill can also be beneficial for beginners because gym mirrors can be used to monitor posture, ensuring that the correct running form is being used to help prevent injury. In addition, the incline on treadmills can be adjusted to mimic outdoor conditions, such as running uphill, which increases the intensity of your workout.
For many people, running outdoors provides a more enjoyable workout compared to running in place on a treadmill. In fact, a 2004 study carried out by researchers at Duke University and published in “Psychology of Sport and Exercise” found that people who ran outdoors instead of on a treadmill ran faster but reported feeling lower levels of exertion and higher levels of satisfaction, revitalization and tranquility.
A 2008 study published in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” reported that the kinematics of running outdoors and running on a treadmill are very similar. A slight difference was noted in that treadmill runners were reported to have a more flat-footed gait pattern. Runners who run outdoors often encounter wind resistance, which forces them to push their bodies harder. Even if there is no wind resistance, runners who are running outdoors must propel themselves forward, while runners who are using a treadmill are running in place and are supported by a moving belt. Running outdoors also helps to build muscles, such as the adductors, biceps femoris, gastrocnemius, soleus and muscles of the vastus group, which are necessary for uphill running.
The Bottom Line
Even though there are some differences between the two, running on a treadmill and running outdoors can provide a comparable workout and are both beneficial for general health and wellness. Calorie output is also relatively the same, as long as speeds are comparable. MayoClinic.com estimates that running for one hour at 5 miles per hour burns 606 calories, while running for one hour at 8 miles per hour burns 861 calories. While runners who exercise outdoors may experience a slight increase in calories burned, it is generally no more than 2 to 3 percent unless you are running on a trail. Trail runners may experience a calorie burn that is up to 10 percent higher than runners who exercise on a treadmill.
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: A Kinematics and Kinetic Comparison of Overground and Treadmill Running
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in One Hour
- HealthGuidance: Treadmills Versus Running Outside
- The Seattle Times: What Are the Real Differences in Running Outdoors Versus on a Treadmill?
- Los Angeles Times: In-Your-Face Fitness: The Pull to Exercise Outdoors
- Health.com: Trail Running Can Up Your Calorie Burn by 10%
- Journal of Applied Physiology: Lower Extremity Muscle Activation During Horizontal and Uphill Running
Tiffany Parnell is an experienced writer of health-related articles. She has worked as a copywriter in the health-care, information-technology and finance industries. Parnell holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication with a minor in biology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.