Indoor (Treadmill) vs Outdoor Running

By Michiyo Akamatsu
Corporate Fitness

Do you train on a treadmill at home or at your favorite gym? Or do you prefer to put on your shades and dash outdoors for your cardio workout? Besides the scenery and other clear variations, such as weather conditions, traffic and accessibility, there are less-obvious aspects to consider when it comes to picking your place to run. Let’s explore a few of the differences your body experiences when running indoors on a treadmill versus outdoors on the street or trail.

Muscular Mechanics

Because a machine powers the treadmill belt, the mechanics of your running stride differs from when you run outside. On a treadmill, your quadriceps push you off the belt whereas you typically rely on your hamstrings to finish your stride cycle when you’re outside on a still surface. If you have tight hamstrings, it might be wise to hit the treadmill once in a while to provide them some relief and to work your quads instead (and vise versa.)

Terrain

If you do much of your running on a treadmill, your body, especially your feet and ankles, becomes accustomed to the very even and constant stride. Over time this may result in overuse injury or boredom. However, when running outside you face the risk of injury from even minor missteps as you encounter obstacles such as small stones, uneven cracks in the concrete and even going from asphalt to concrete or gravel. Small muscles, tendons and ligaments in your feet and ankles are forced to accommodate the variety in terrain, which radiates to the rest of the muscles in your legs as well.

Wind Resistance

Even a non-windy day still provides wind resistance as you are moving in a forward motion. A treadmill does not provide any wind resistance at all so running outside at the same pace presents a little harder of a workout. To equalize the treadmill, set the incline at 1.5 percent or even 2 percent to account for the lost wind resistance and make the pace comparable to running outside.

If you’re in good health and are injury-free, you may have a strong preference or choose to alternate between running indoors and outside. If you aren’t sure of your physical capabilities or are new to running, then it is wise to consult with a professional about any potential limiting factors that might result in one option outweighing the other. BaySport’s physical therapists and personal trainers are more than happy to help you find the right path for your running and fitness needs.

About the Author:

Michiyo “Mich” Akamatsu is a San Jose State graduate in Kinesiology and has been working in BaySport’s corporate fitness setting for over 20 years. She has been an active, outdoors-loving person her entire life and takes a very strong interest in health and wellness. Mich loves running outdoors and prefers it as her go-to workout – even in the rain!

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