Treadmills vs Running Outside

When winter rolls around again, the season brings a change in conditions that can make exercise less enjoyable and even put some off jogging altogether.

From a health and fitness point of view, the timing of this could not be worse because winter is when we generally avoid outdoor activities (thus avoiding the everyday exercise most of us do without thinking) and when we are tempted to indulge in extra calories because of the festivities.

During this time of year, we are still supping our calories at home and using video calls to replace the atmosphere of the local pub. In this post, we are going to transplant this sense of perseverance to exercise and recreate jogging outdoors on a treadmill.

Is running outdoors bad for you?

Running outdoors during winter brings a whole host of considerations. The colder temperatures make jogging less appealing than at other times of the year. You can always layer up before heading out, but this inevitably leads to becoming too hot midway through.

Facing the cold also requires an extra push of motivation, which we really need to save for when we are on the run! Harsh weather conditions – including wind, rain, and ice – create hazards for joggers.

Is running outdoors dangerous?

Something as simple as slipping on icy pavements or wet leaves can cause a nasty injury.

The shorter winter evenings also create a time pressure to cram in a jog before darkness falls, especially for those who jog alone. Fitting this in around a full-time job can be tremendously difficult.

For those who do not mind the darkness, it is important to wear appropriate reflective gear to make yourself visible to drivers and to be extra aware of your surroundings to avoid any hazards. All of these factors combined can be very off-putting and lead people to hang up their runners for the duration of winter. However, there is an alternative – the treadmill.

Is running on a treadmill the same as running outside?

Running outside and running on a treadmill both involve running, so they must be the same, right? Wrong. Jogging outside involves a swath of factors that you have likely never thought about.

Running outdoors vs on a treadmill: 3 main differences

#1 – The ground isn’t level

Firstly, the ground is almost never entirely level like it is on a treadmill. For a run that better mimics the terrain of nature, use the adjustable settings to increase and decrease the incline. A lot of machines come with pre-programmed sessions that will automatically do this for you.

#2 – On a treadmill, the ground moves

Another thing to consider is that outdoors, the running surface stays still beneath your feet as you propel yourself forwards, but when you are on a treadmill the surface is constantly moving.

This affects your running gait. It is important to check in with your body as you run to identify any areas of undue pressure that might be being applied to your joints – especially your knees, shins, and feet.

#3 – It’s easier to run faster on a treadmill

This constant movement also assists with your running, making it slightly easier to run at the same speed on a treadmill, so to get more out of your workout it is good practice to vary the incline intensity.

Similarly, running outdoors involves a degree of wind resistance that you do not encounter indoors, the strength of which depends on the weather conditions and direction of travel. To adjust for this, it is recommended that you always run on, at least, a 2% incline.

Benefits of running outside vs treadmill

Now that we have covered the physical aspects of recreating an outdoors run on the treadmill, we can turn to the mental one. One of the great joys of running outside is that it is mentally stimulating.

The constant change in surface and surroundings as well as the visual stimulation of running in a pleasant area combine to make for a more mentally invigorating run than 30 minutes staring at a wall on the treadmill.

There are ways to overcome this, one of which has already been mentioned – regularly adjusting the settings to mimic changing terrain or using a pre-programmed run.

Tips: Making your treadmill running like outdoor running

For the visual aspect, there are a few options. Some people enjoy virtual runs, which are essentially videos of outdoor areas played on a projector. In our post on how to beat boredom [hyperlink] we discuss other forms of entertainment that can be brought into your session.

Increasing the incline on your treadmill makes it more like running in the park

Here’s a nifty tip: Increase your incline to make your treadmill simulate outdoor running. A study in pubmed found that as little as a 1% inline grade could make running on a machine more like the energy use you’ll get running outdoors.

We would encourage you to take advantage of the home comforts that cannot be transferred to an outdoors setting, such as watching a tv show while exercising.

Indoor running classes: the secret not many people know about

Finally, for those who really miss running outdoors and need a source of motivation, winter can be an ideal time to join an indoors running class. Much like a spin class, these are conducted by an instructor who will call out directions for adjusting the machine.

There is music and screens displaying visual images, such as videos of outdoors terrain. Most importantly, there is a sense of team spirit as everyone pushes towards their fitness goals together.

This all combines to make for an enjoyable running experience that delivers the same physical benefits as outdoor jogging, without having to endure the British weather!

References & Further reading

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