If you ask any runner they prefer: running out or running on a treadmill, we can guarantee that they will have* feelings* about it. Some running purists can not withstand the dreadmil’s monotony; others can not find a reason to take the pace in front of them without manual controls, and love the precision of a structured workout at the inside.
None of the groups are wrong. Both modalities have their advantages and disadvantages, and each of them can help make you stronger and faster, whether you want to train for a race or just get your cardio workout in. Frankly, you would do the best to log in and out of miles. Here’s the breakdown of running on a treadmill outside versus running.
We need to find out whether running out is better than running on a treadmill for us, or is it the other way around? On the one hand, the belt moves under you with a treadmill, and your body has no wind resistance to counteract, so running should be easier. You could theoretically jump up and down on a treadmill and you’d record running at whatever speed the belt moves. Outside, while pushing through the resulting wind resistance, your legs must propel your motion forward.
Fortunately, scientific research has shown that setting the treadmill to a grade of 1 percent accurately reflects the cost of energy and simulates running outdoors. Therefore, you can compensate for the lack of wind resistance and the belt moving under you by setting the treadmill to a 1 percent grade to make treadmill running the same effort as running outdoors.
Corroborating research has shown that when running on a treadmill, VO2 max is the same as when running outside, showing clearly that running on a treadmill is as effective as running outside. Research also reveals that bio-mechanical patterns did not change when test subjects were running on a treadmill versus when they were running outside.
When is running on a treadmill better than outdoors?
Because we now know that running outside and running on the treadmill are basically the same at a grade of 1 percent, we can identify the specific workouts or instances that might be better than running outside when running on a treadmill.
Running on a treadmill, however, offers some advantages over running outdoors, particularly for runners living in cold climates. After all, it can be dangerous to icy roads. “If it’s a difference between: either you’re not going to get out of the door because you don’t want to run out or you’re going to run a treadmill, you’re going to run a treadmill anyway,” says Gainacopulos.
Running on a treadmill can make nail speedwork and otherwise intense sessions easier from a performance point of view, because you have more control over the pace and difficulty of your run. Running on a treadmill can be a great tool to incorporate inclines into your training sessions if you live in a relatively flat area.