Fitness Articles

Are You Cheating Yourself by Choosing the Treadmill?

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

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Outdoor running and walking doesn't have to be hard, especially because you have so much control over how fast you choose to go. Flat, paved paths will be easiest for beginners and people with balance issues, but they're not always easy to find. Overall, outdoor running is more functional, uses more muscle fibers and burns more calories for the same amount of work when compared with a treadmill.

Tips: By selecting the proper terrain, incline and speed, you can cater an indoor or outdoor workout to your fitness and ability levels.
Safety
In general, your chances of slipping, falling, encountering extreme weather conditions or being attacked are probably a lot lower when you're indoors on a treadmill. For people who exercise alone, in the early or late hours, or in an unsafe area of town, the treadmill can provide a lot of peace of mind. Although there are many things to consider when picking your workout mode, you should never skimp on safety. That said, a treadmill is no guarantee that you won't injure yourself. Plenty of people can lose their footing, trip or overheat when exercising indoors.

Because of the changes in weather and terrain, mixed with traffic and other parameters, outdoor running is riskier for most people. While you can take a lot of precautions to stay as safe as possible, there is no guarantee that they'll work out in your favor.
Tips: Use your best judgment and always be aware of your form, footing and surroundings, whether you're indoors or out. Many accidents and injuries can be prevented just by paying attention and keeping safety at the forefront of your mind.

As you can see, both types of running have their pros and cons. At the end of the day, running—on whatever surface you and your body enjoys the most—is the best pick for you because that means you're going to stick with it. And don't forget, variety is the spice of life, so don't be afraid to run outside some days and inside on others. Life is too short to suffer through boring workouts, so enjoy yourself and make every stride count!

This article has been reviewed and approved by Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer.
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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

  • CHEFETTE10
    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
  • 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
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