Running on a Treadmill VS Running Outside: Which is Best?

A man running outside in the countryside

Whether you prefer pounding the pavements or hitting the gym for a session on the treadmill, however, you get the miles in is a benefit to your body. There are pros and cons to both methods; some runners loathe the confines of the gym and run in all weathers, while others work out better in a gym with a consistent environment and manual controls. 

But is there any real difference between running on a treadmill vs outside in terms of workout effectiveness? Here at FitKit UK, we’ve weighed up the different factors to consider. 

Running on a Treadmill Vs Running Outside


The pros:

If you’ve found that running outside feels like harder work than on a treadmill, that’s because it is. In some ways, at least. The moving belt of a treadmill beneath you does some of the hard work for you; picking your feet up in a steady rhythm will keep you going, whereas running outside requires your feet and legs to propel you forwards. In terms of workout effectiveness, this means you’re using your muscles more, but also expending more energy, which is why many people tire more quickly running outside.

Another big benefit of running outside is that you’re likely to engage more of your leg muscles because of the variation in terrain and obstacles in your path. If you’re dodging between people, running up park steps or jumping up the occasional curb, this all provides more variation in muscle movement than the steady belt of a treadmill can provide.

Running outside can also sometimes provide a bigger energy boost than running indoors. Fresh air and vitamin D provided by sunlight are great for our bodies and can feel more exhilarating than an indoor workout session. 

The cons:

However, while our bodies are built for running, going from a sedentary lifestyle to aspiring athlete can put a lot of pressure on the joints – particularly the knees. While running can actually be good for the bones, overdoing it can cause bone and joint injuries. To combat this, it’s important to give your body a rest when it needs it and work on building up the glutes and quads to help support your joints.

A man's legs running on a treadmill


The pros:

Running on a treadmill vs outside can offer many of its own benefits too. As it requires less energy, many people find that they’re able to run faster on a treadmill than outside. Interval training with 30 seconds sprints are great for burning calories and improving your cardio fitness levels, and if you’re not a natural sprinter, these can be really tough outdoors. Treadmills can make controlling and varying your pace easier and help you build up your fitness for when you do run outside.

If you live in a flat area, the gradient controls on a treadmill can also be great for training your legs for running hills or hiking. If you have a race in a hilly area or you’re planning a hike, a treadmill on a high incline will help you build up your glutes and other leg muscles in preparation.

For people with pre-existing injuries or health conditions, running on a treadmill can be safer than running outside. Because treadmills have less impact on the joints than concrete or tarmac, running on one can cause less joint pain and may be preferable if you’re recovering from an injury. Additionally, people with lung conditions such as asthma may find that cold air in winter and other seasonal weather changes can trigger an asthma attack and rely on the controlled temperature of the indoors.

The cons:

While you can somewhat mimic running outdoors on a treadmill, ultimately, there are limitations. Though you can change the gradient uphill and mix up your speeds, many treadmills don’t offer a decline option or replicate varied terrain.

The takeaway

When weighing up running on the treadmill vs outside, it comes down to your individual needs. Running outside will get you fit. It’ll ensure you can run for the bus without wheezing and provides a varied workout for your leg muscles. However, it’s more taxing for the body; it expends more energy and can be tough on the joints. 

If you’re just getting into running and want to build up your fitness levels, or you have a health condition, a treadmill can provide almost as good a workout with less strain on the body – just be aware that you may find that your fitness on the treadmill doesn’t equate to your fitness outdoors. In recent years, a big perk for gym-goers is the advancement in technology. You can now often find treadmills with built-in WiFi, TV, and virtual trail-running simulations that bring the outdoors to you, so treadmills no longer have to be associated with monotony!

Indoors or out, running can still give you a boost of endorphins, offer an excellent cardiovascular workout, help you lose weight and improve your general fitness. 

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