Fitness Articles

Are You Cheating Yourself by Choosing the Treadmill?

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

Tips: Whether you're running inside or out, run with a buddy! That always makes the time fly.
Even with the programs, feedback and incline changes, treadmill running is a stationary movement on a motorized belt. No matter how much you enjoy it, it's kind of a one-hit wonder. The best workouts will improve your ability to do everyday things—like play with your kids or get to first base faster in that softball game. While treadmill running is a fantastic workout and will improve your fitness level, it doesn't mimic how you will walk or run in a real-life situation. Even a seasoned treadmill runner in great shape will have a harder time running the same speed or distance when outdoors—because outdoor running is more challenging and uses your body differently. On the flipside, the general safety and stability of a treadmill will allow you to do lateral movements and even backwards walking, which are great ways to cross-train that you might not attempt outdoors.

Running outdoors is extremely functional. Even when you think you're running on flat ground, the ground is never completely flat. This means your foot, leg and core muscles are constantly making small adjustments to contend with the varying surfaces. These small muscle movements are important for your coordination, balance and ability to do everyday things. It may not sound significant, but it really makes a difference: The more muscles you can recruit in any given movement, the more calories you will burn and fitness you will build.
Tips: If you're a hardcore treadmill runner, do not be afraid to take that run outdoors occasionally. Even if you can't run as far as you can on the treadmill, know that you're doing your body good by running outside. But outdoor runners shouldn't fear that the treadmill will decrease their fitness level. As long as you're getting a balance of outdoor running, you're golden.
Difficulty Level
Treadmill workouts are generally less intense than outdoor workouts. By using a treadmill instead of running on outdoor terrain, you utilize fewer muscle fibers, coordination, and balance and the belt actually helps propel you forward so that you do less work. In addition, there are handles for support (if needed), making a treadmill a great way for a beginner (or person with joint or balance issues) to get fit. But not every treadmill workout has to be easy. By bumping up the incline, you'll counteract that propelling motion of the belt and by increasing your speed, you can get a great workout. Ultimately, treadmills offer a lot of variety in difficulty level.
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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

    It's fine for people to use their treadmill, at least they are doing something! We ride an exercise bike in our living room. Do what you can, when you can. Depends on your lifestyle during that part of your life. Only a certain percentage of people can exercise anyway they want every day, with no family or job restrictions. It ain't a cutesy perfect world! - 1/22/2016 3:49:47 AM
  • 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

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