Being in the fitness industry and participating in over a dozen running races, I've had my fair share of treadmill and outdoor running workouts through the years. I often have clients ask if one is more beneficial, and I truly believe that combining indoor and outdoor workouts is the best of both worlds. I've asked a few other experts to give me their take on the treadmill/outdoor running debate.
Times When a Treadmill Is the Best Choice
When I was training for a marathon in 2010, I would often have to go on long runs very late at night. Although I didn't mind running in the dark, I knew it wasn't the safest thing to do and I relied on my treadmill to keep my training in check. Although I preferred to run long distances outside, it was nice to have the option to work out anytime of day (and in any weather) by using my treadmill.
I also found treadmills to be great for pacing myself, setting the treadmill to a 6.0 and leaving it there for a prolonged period of time. When I run outdoors, I sometimes find myself speeding up or slowing down without being aware it's even happening. When you want to finish a workout in a certain amount of time or you're training for a specific type of event, treadmills can be incredibly helpful for keeping you on track.
Shelly Mckenna Lake, USAT Level 2 Endurance Triathlon Coach and owner FV3 Racing, shares, "In some cases, the weather is impossible or not smart, so indoor treadmill running is the only real option. Running inside is a very controlled environment, which allows for some specific things you can't do outside, such as focused intervals, temperature control (add fans if it is hot inside!), and the ability to drink lots of fluids without carrying them. Running inside is also safer in the dark or if you live only near busy roads."
Cori Satti, certified personal trainer, agrees "a treadmill offers you climate control, steady pace, and a belt can make the workout easier." There's also a safety boost when you're on a treadmill knowing you can stop anytime and rest, grab more water, and even use the bathroom!
Outdoor Exercise Gives You an Energy Boost
Alexandria Price, Owner of Fit4mom Waco, knows that sometimes you just need to get outdoors! "Time outdoors gives a natural boost to our immune system and provides crucial vitamin D. Being out in the sunshine can boost your mood which is especially important in colder months when seasonal affective disorder affects many and postpartum mood disorders can be especially hard on mothers. Motherhood can be very isolating and you can feel stuck in a rut in the house with a baby. Getting outside to exercise with friends can be exactly what mama needs."
Personal trainer Kylie Schofield adds, "Pro to running outside is a change in scenery. It can get very boring running on a treadmill and seeing the same thing in front of you the entire time."
Studies have also shown that exercising outdoors may expend more energy than the same distance covered for an indoor workout. This is mostly likely due in part to wind resistance and varying inclines that are difficult to mimic when you're inside. Outdoor exercise has also been shown to lower stress levels, and light tends to elevate people's moods. When your energy level is low and you're struggling to get that workout in, hitting an outdoor trail might be just what you need.
Both Can Give You a Kick-Butt Workout
As a trainer, I have found running is one of the most effective ways to lose weight, decrease body fat, and improve overall conditioning. Hitting a trail, track, or pavement gives you the opportunity to get some sunshine, get your heart rate up, and improve your heart health.
Although it's hard to mimic outdoor hills exactly, adding an incline to your treadmill workout gives you the ability to get a great interval workout. Whether you're hopping on for a quick 10-minute run or a long-distance 10-miler, put your headphones on and get your legs pumping!
Whether you have the perfect running loop in your neighborhood or you prefer running alongside other people at the gym, both give you the opportunity to achieve your fitness goals and stay in great physical shape all year round. Satti concludes, "Either method is great because you are moving your body!"