Advertisement -- Learn more about ads on this site.

Fitness Articles  ›  Focused Fitness

Are You Cheating Yourself by Choosing the Treadmill?

What's Better: the Treadmill or the Open Road?

-- By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
Advertisement -- Learn more about ads on this site.
When it comes to running (and walking), you have two types of people: those who adore the outdoors and those who would rather have their try at the treadmill. I've heard countless reasons from each type of runner on exactly why they choose to run indoors or out, but for the newbie runner, it can be confusing. Which is better? Is there really a big difference between the treadmill and the sidewalk? Which offers a higher calorie burn? What are the pros and cons of each option?

In order to clear up confusion and settle this debate once and for all, we're pitting treadmill running vs. outdoor running. In this head-to-head match, we'll rate indoor and outdoor running's pros and cons on different and important variables. Read on to find out which type of running reigns supreme for you!

Surface
On the treadmill, you run on one surface: the treadmill belt. This is good because it's flat and has some give for your knees, as long as the belt is properly waxed and cared for. On the other hand, the treadmill is flat and, even with an incline, doesn't give your muscles the same variability or challenge that you'd get outside.

Running outside gives you greater variability and challenge because of the changes in terrain and slope, but if you're running on the cement sidewalks or asphalt, running can be very jarring on your knees and joints. When it's wet or icy, it can also be quite risky. Running on a trail or track is best on your body for outdoor running, but depending on where you live, may not be available.
Tips: For those with bad knees, the treadmill or a cushioned running track is probably best. And for those who love the treadmill, don't forget to use that incline button every once in awhile to add some hills into your workout.
Climate
When you run on a treadmill, you pretty much know that the temperature is going to be in the upper 60s or lower 70s. You know what to wear to regulate your body temperature, and there's no wind, rain, snow to battle. But treadmill runners miss out on the sunshine (and the vitamin D it provides) and outdoor experience that so many people crave.

When the weather is a perfect 68 degrees and the sun is shining, it's hard to imagine wanting to run indoors. But when it's dark, cold, rainy or windy, the weather can really play a factor in your comfort level, performance and safety. In the winter, if you're not properly prepared, you can get frostbite, get dehydrated, slip and fall on ice, or even pull a muscle and be stranded miles away from home. Extreme heat also has its risks. And for people suffering from seasonal allergies, outdoor exercise isn't even an option sometimes.
Continued ›
Page 1 of 4   Next Page › Return to main fitness page »
Advertisement -- Learn more about ads on this site.

Related Content


About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • MMGAGE1701
    Personally, I use a mix. The treadmill is great for escaping extreme weather conditions and giving my shins a bit of a break from pavement (there are no trails or decent-sized tracks accessible to me). I usually turn on the tv while I'm on there as it does provide a distraction from counting down the minutes. Typically I am on the treadmill during the week and outside on the weekends, weather permitting. - 6/9/2014 10:13:35 AM
  • When I was younger, I HATED the treadmill & preferred an elliptical machine. Walking outside (especially with a dog) is great, but I would never run outside due to safety issues. As I aged, I discovered the interval program on the treadmill. I can burn almost 600 calories in 60 minutes. With good jams on my iPod, I'm a happy, sweaty old camper! - 4/7/2014 5:20:51 PM
  • Don't trust the calories burned info on the treadmill - grossly overestimates! - 1/12/2014 1:45:55 PM
  • While I prefer running outside, doing so messed up my knees a few years back while I doing a Couch to 5k program. Between physical therapy and pain medication I'm able to run again with only some pain, but I'm doing as much on the treadmill as I can because the surface doesn't stress my knees as much. That said, once spring comes around I'll start trading one of my treadmill runs for an outdoor run each week to see if I can build up enough "outdoor fitness" to participate in charity 5ks again. That way I'm not stressing my knees too much, but I'm also training a bit for outdoor 5ks. - 1/5/2014 11:29:50 AM
  • Right now I primarily do treadmill walking with speed and incline adjustments throughout my workout. I don't think I'm cheating myself at all. While walking / running outside can be invigorating, it takes more preparation and effort to do so. The more time it takes me to get into the workout, the more excuses I sometimes make and the less likely I am to actually complete the workout. At home everything I need for a safe, healthy workout is right in arm's reach. I find myself heavy-laden with stuff when I attempt to do my walks outside though...water bottle, phone, ID's (in case there is some kind of emergency) and dog's leash (because as a woman, I don't think it wise to go walking alone no matter the time of day).

    Perhaps I'm not getting the fresh air or sunshine that I could be getting, but I can get those doing other activities. During my workouts though, I want to be truly focused on what I'm doing and not a lot of different things at once (i.e. traffic, the dog, what's going on around me or who's around me, whether the weather is holding etc.).

    I think the main thing to remember is that you can't expect to do the exact same thing on the treadmill each day and continue to see progress. You still need to change it up. I sometimes start off at super steep inclines for a few minutes, then drop down for a quick rest before going up to a more moderate incline. I change my speeds up randomly. Sometimes I do things in a progression. But I never stay at the same speed or incline for too long, and certainly not for the entire workout. I usually manage to burn between 400 and 500 calories in less than an hour (I use monitor's other than what are on the treadmill itself for accuracy's sake). So if burning as many calories as possible is the ultimate goal for my treadmill session, then I feel I'm hitting the mark. I don't know if that would be the case walking outside. For me there are just too many distractions and uncontrollable circumstances, and when I'm distracted I don't usually have the focus to give my all. That's just me though. I... - 12/15/2013 10:53:22 PM
  • I live to walk outside. When it raining really hard I walk in the house. If its drizzling outside I put my coat on and go walking. Cold and hot weather. It's the smell you get and all the beautiful things that god made. - 11/11/2013 7:34:38 PM
  • I enjoy running/walking/j
    ogging both indoors and out. I switch it up constantly (pretty much every other day), mostly because I do every other day focused on cardio and every other day focused on strength training. On a cardio day I just go outdoors for my work out, on a strength day I like to use the machines and weight at the gym, so I hop on the treadmill for about 10 mins at a high incline, then hit the weights. - 10/16/2013 12:14:22 PM
  • I like to run outside as much as I can. It's beautiful where I live and we have a woodchip paved walking trail very close to my house. I've been using that to train for my first 5K. It's a beautiful place to run, and the surface is great for my knees. When the weather is awful, and our winters get ugly, I love the treadmills at my gym.

    Do what works, do what you love, be safe and have fun always. - 10/16/2013 8:44:30 AM
  • My walking preference is outside for sure. I have used a treadmill at hotels, but that is about it. Heat, wind, rain, snow, ice, cold, you name the weather and I am out walking in it. I get bored on the treadmill, even if I watch tv while on it. We have just moved to a new location, so now I have new territory to explore too! Another benefit for walking outside for me is all the golf balls I find! I have found well over 30 in the last 3 weeks. My husband and sons enjoy the benefits of that! lol - 8/6/2013 12:51:49 PM
  • I prefer to run outside if the weather is nice. Usually my only other concern about running outdoors is snakes. I ran on our local Greenway and saw one the other day, and I never run at the Botanical Gardens during hot weather because I've seen snakes there, too. The treadmill offers a workout, but it is boring by my standards and I never feel as accomplished at the end as I do running outside. When the weather turns cooler, I will be right back at the Bot Gardens running those lovely trails feeling like I'm the only one out in the woods. - 7/31/2013 6:52:22 PM
  • Great views, I've never really given it much thought. I just which ever was readily available to me at the time. It's hard to get out the house with a 9 year old, 6 year old, and 3 month old, so I would just stay home and get on the treadmill. I would do the occasional walk around the block with stroller in tow.

    I will now consider challenging myself more. - 7/20/2013 5:04:40 PM
  • After working out at home for nearly two years, I've decided I'm totally fed up with being plagued by everpresent constant niggling injuries caused by over training and also too much running outside on hard surfaces. Hence I have re-joined my gym, so now at least I'm able to have access to more equipment that is kinder on my body: such as the elliptical, rowing machines, cycles, and also the vast array of weights that the gym has. Also, running on the treadmill works for me - I am now injury free for the first time in months and am loving the feeling of being able to go through day to day life without any aches or pains! - 7/9/2013 10:45:52 AM
  • I used to run on a treadmill and I loved it. I wish I had access to one now. But, I run outdoors now. It is true that you use different muscles. When I ran exclusively on a treadmill and then signed up for a 5K, it was exhausting. I was in shape, but wow! I felt like I was running under water. Now, I run outdoor, I wonder how I will feel if I ever run a 5K again. - 7/8/2013 5:40:52 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    The better option is the one that gets you off the couch. I don't exercise outdoors because of the extreme heat in the Southwest in the summer. For the month of June, temperatures were 100+ every day, and are still over 100.

    Allergies also limit my outdoor activities, as does pollution. I used to live in a very small, rural town back East, where the roads were 2-lane, winding with no shoulders. It wasn't safe to run, or even walk on those roads. - 7/8/2013 11:45:55 AM
  • ELEKTRAONFIRE
    There is also the aspect of fresh air outdoors, not just the weather... - 7/8/2013 8:42:10 AM
Popular Calories Burned Searches: SparkPeople Cardio Blast DVD: Cardio Kickboxing (Coach Nicole)  |  SparkPeople Cardio Blast DVD: Hop to It (Coach Nicole)  |  SparkPeople Cardio Blast DVD: Jump Rope (Coach Nicole)