To Treadmill or Run Outdoors That Is the Question!

by Sylvester Janssens
by Sylvester Janssens

As a passionate runner, you’re probably wondering is it better to run outdoors or use a treadmill?

Well, the good news is both options have their pros and cons. Perhaps the best approach is to reap the rewards that each of them has to offer by incorporating both of them in your running routine. Let’s explore them in details.

Treadmill Pros

Treadmill running offers some great features. To name just a few, treadmill surface is cushioned to reduce impact. As a result, it greatly helps in preventing muscles and joints strains that are commonly associated with running on a concrete surface. In addition, you have full control of the running effect you feel like creating. For example, you may choose a hill-running effect and increase speed/resistance freely. In other words, you can fully customize your running experience with a treadmill instead of having to adapt to outdoors running surfaces.

The obvious beauty of a treadmill is that it sets you free form worrying about unpredictable weather. Also, it’s a great option when your personal safety is an issue particularly for women or even men who live in rather deserted areas. With a treadmill, you can run at 2 Am in the morning if you feel like it. It couldn’t get any better than that!

Treadmill Cons

The major drawback of a treadmill is that it limits and constraints your body’s movement range, forcing you into a running frame only four-feet-wide. This may cause tightening up your muscles as well as creating knee, back, and hip problems in the long run. Outdoors running, on the other hand, allows your joints and muscles to move much more freely. Outdoors uneven surfaces coupled with wind-resistance allow your body to burn more calories compared to a treadmill.

Therefore, if you plan to run long distances over five miles, or if are training for a race, outdoors running is your best bet. It’s a good idea to run in the park or soft surfaces such as gravel, tarmac, or grass.

Make the Most Out of your Treadmill Workout

If you prefer to use a treadmill as part of your workout, it is not recommended to run more than thirty minutes at a time. If you have more ambitious fitness plan, you could increase your workout intensity by adding resistance and incline. Cross-training is always advisable. Even if you’re a running-fanatic, give yourself a treat and enjoy the fitness rewards other exercise has to offer such as biking, weight training, rowing, swimming and the best exercise of all: walking.

If burning calories is your number one priority, again stick to the thirty-minutes treadmill rule. In fact, increasing your workout intensity in a shorter duration results in burning more calories than running at a lower intensity. This rule applies to both treadmill and outdoors running. And hey, NEVER forget the magnificent after-running-stretch particularly when using a treadmill.

How to Get Outdoor Goods Using a Treadmill?

The good news is that you can work around some of the unavoidable treadmill training issues. The lack of wind resistance and the assistance of the treadmill’s moving belt creates an easier running experience compared to free-range running.

When you run outside, the surrounding air creates resistance. Studies have shown that outside air resistance contributes to increasing your workload between 2% and 10%, depending on your speed. The faster you run, the better effect air resistance has on you. With a treadmill, you could easily create similar effect by elevating the treadmill to 1% or level 1. The slight increase will make your treadmill workout equivalent to running outdoors on level ground.

When you run outdoors, you are moving over ever-changing terrain. The incline and slant of the ground is constantly changing. The running surface itself could change frequently. You could notice that you are moving from gravel to concrete to asphalt to grass.

Unfortunately, there’s no magical button you could press to turn the smooth treadmill surface into an uneven and rough one. The major negative consequence of this is not getting enough “Proprioceptive Training”, an essential skill needed for treadmill running. Proprioception basically means your ability to intuitively feel and know the motion and position of your body, legs, feet, arms, etc. all the time.

It results in being aware of all the various actions of your running routine. To a limited extent, you do proprioception naturally. Still, you need to maximize your level of awareness by practicing to be consciously aware of your position on the treadmill belt, the amount of your forward leaning, your feet angle as well as all stages of the running stride.

Moreover, outdoor running exposes you to all types of unstable running surfaces. The surfaces changes will automatically force your neuro-muscular system to become proprioceptive as it must make split-second adjustments in order to stabilize your body while moving in the right direction. The flat treadmill surface takes away this valuable training opportunity.

To makeup for that in your treadmill training, you can use a wobble board, namely a board with a half-sphere on the bottom. It mainly wobbles when you stand or step on it. This way, you could help in building and maintaining your proprioceptive skills.

Optimal Running Form on your Treadmill

All runners should focus on maintaining a proper running form regardless of your running place. This is especially important for treadmill newbies. It is much better to perfect your running form the get-go instead of getting used to wrong running habits that will be hard to break.

The most effective running posture is the relaxed and mostly upright one, with a slight whole-body forward-lean beginning at your ankles. Avoid leaning forward at the waist. Make sure to push out your chest and keep your shoulders back and relaxed. You need to avoid upper-body tension. It’s very important to remember that tension is a form-wrecker.

If you lean forward too far at the waist, it will cause a high-impact stumbling motion that could slow you down and add excessive stress on your ankles, knees, and hips. On the other hand, if you Lean backward, you will find yourself running in a too much vertical motion that will stress your back and hips.

Even the totally vertical posture has its own stride issues. When running in a very vertical position, you tend to reach out with both your arms and legs. This could waste your energy and slow you down a bit. On the other hand, a whole-body forward-lean would enlist the gravity help just enough to direct your momentum.

Also remember that if you land on your heels, you are overstriding and putting too much stress on your hips and knees. Make sure to Land either flat footed or on the balls of your feet in order to minimize the impact and keep your forward-momentum going strong. Check out the argument agains heel striking.

A good tip is to count number of strides you’re taking per minute. If you’re running correctly, you should be taking between 85 to 95 full strides every minute. If you are taking less than that, it means you’re taking too much time on your feet.

As you see, both running options have its goods and bads. While running on the road has the obvious advantage of enjoying the stunning nature, you could still make your treadmill routine entertaining by adding guilt-free T.V. time.

The bottom line, only you can decide which option to go for based on your unique needs and circumstances. Just bear the above tips in mind in order to make the most out of your running experience. Happy running!