Fitness Articles

Are You Cheating Yourself by Choosing the Treadmill?

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

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!

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.
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.
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites, and 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

  • I love walking outside but my allergies/asthma does not allow me to do so. I have had asthma all my life. I know my allergy triggers and pollen is one of them. So I use the treadmill. I have a love/ hate relationship with it. LOL. If I want some sunshine I can have a 10 minute sun exposure on my patio. Or take a vitamin D supplement. You have to know and figure out what works for you. - 4/23/2015 6:01:05 PM
  • I run outside because I like to enjoy the weather and because I have a very SEVERE problem with my attention span. I can't sit in a room and just run and stay there. I need the scenery to change.
    Also... If I'm halfway done with my workout, if I'm out on the city streets, I'd still have to make it back home! There's less chance of giving up on yourself which in the beginning I find very helpful :D - 4/14/2015 11:00:39 PM
  • NordicTrack X9i or X11i is the answer for all you indoor treadmill runners. Its awesome!!! A little expensive but if you are looking for a treadmill in your home, go with this one. It's worth it!. Why? Because it inclines to 40%! Talk about a hill workout!. And it has an android screen which allows you to watch screenshots from areas all over the world. You are not just staring at a countdown timer or miles completed screen (which they have). You can even custom make your own running map. I have a hard time running outside because I have bad knees. With the cushioned platform my knees hardly ever ache. Here is a link for more information:
    yfXy - 4/14/2015 2:57:36 PM
  • Up front, I completely agree with the article.

    That being said, I don't use a treadmill, I use an elliptical. That reduces some of the "negatives" given for the treadmill.

    I don't enjoy running distances; with exercise-induced bronchospasm, the bouncing my body does when running triggers some rather unpleasant symptoms when I run more than about 2/3 of a mile or so. Further, if the temperature is below about 35 degrees F, it's too cold for me to run; cold affects me more than it does most people. I don't have either problem on an exercise machine.

    Finally, I am very interested in the outdoors, and there's nothing I like more than a hike. The difference between walking / hiking and running is this: when I see something interesting, I want to stop. When "running for fitness", stopping breaks the rhythm of running, but it's all part of the program when hiking or walking. Indoors, that's not a problem; there's no reason to stop, so I go for the proper amount of time, no more.

    So really, the point is, do what works for you, as long as you're doing something. - 4/14/2015 8:22:45 AM
  • I've used both and there is no mention of the fact that, on a treadmill you're basically running by lifiting your body up and down and the ground is moving your feet backwards, whereas when you're running outside, you are having to shift your own weight along by pushing yourself forward. This to me seems to be the fundamental difference and it's only reffered to obliquely by the 'you won't be able to run as far outside as on a treadmill' This is why, it's Harder! - 4/14/2015 1:44:01 AM
  • I'm running on the treadmill until I feel comfortable with my running skills. Now that the weather is getting warmer I'm excited to eventually run outside. - 3/17/2015 10:01:15 AM
    Love my treadmill but also enjoy when the weather is good and school not in session the track. I find the treadmill is easier on my body the consistency helps with that. I have tripped on a uneven sidewalk, stepped on rocks and twigs. At times outside can be dangerous and the pollen is annoying. Falling on my face is always a possibility. A treadmill is also easier for helping with your daily water intake, I usually drink 24 oz when on it. Outside I don't bring a waterbottle. So although I love the vitamin D, treadmill wins. - 10/23/2014 6:40:59 AM
  • For me, nothing beats outdoors. I tried treadmills for a year and found it to be pretty boring. The 30 minutes the gym allotted per session never seemed to be enough. I now get my exercise through walking in my neighborhood, which consists of hilly streets. I just get out and go, saving time by not having to travel by car to the gym. During the warmer months, there are many people (and dogs) out walking almost any time of day. I've made about 150 trips in my suburban neighborhood, and not once have I had to repeat a route. By not taking laps over a set route, I can go for as long a time as I want, and vary it from 30-90 minutes.. I usually have a general idea of how long I'll walk, so I walk away from my home for at least 1/2 that amount of time. - 8/1/2014 7:50:49 AM
  • I always prefer to run outside, the only time I don't is for rain, snow, or extreme cold. The treadmill bores me to tears! You guys who can run on the treadmill have much more willpower than I do. When I get on the treadmill it takes about 5 minutes before all I can think about is 'how much longer do I have to do this?' - 7/30/2014 8:57:19 PM
  • MMGAGE1701
    I use both. My treadmill is great for days with nasty weather, to give my shins a break from the pavement, and for doing intervals since the speed is controlled. I can see a tv from my treadmill so I can pop in a show (or tune in to a Castle re-run on TNT) and I don't get bored. I typically run inside on weekdays, when I'm more pressed for time, and head outside on weekends. I'd never swear off my treadmill, nor would I swear off going outside. I think it's silly to suggest that you have to do all of one or all of the other. - 7/30/2014 8:49:28 AM
  • 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

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