Is Running On A Treadmill Easier Or Harder Than Outside?
By Simon Gould
Running on a treadmill is something a lot of runners have to do whether they like it or not. Perhaps the weather is too bad outside or just the convenience sometimes calls for a treadmill run. 50 million Americans choose to do it every year, so there are many good reasons out there. But how does it compare to running outside, is it easier or harder?
Why treadmill running is easier
Treadmill running has shown to be scientifically easier than running outside. You do lack the freedom of movement you get with running outside. You can't accelerate, or change your stride and you have to concentrate on a treadmill but it is shown that you use less energy. So what are the reasons for it being easier?
The lovely bouncy treadmill has something to do with it. The deck helps propel you along as each stride gets it's own encouragement from the belt. This means there's less impact on the joints and lower leg. The historic and well written reason is the lack of wind resistance. Some world records don't count when the wind is too powerful in a favorable direction.
Due to these and the belt moving beneath you, you actually run faster on a treadmill. Your pace is quicker than outside. This makes a treadmill ideal for speed work. Getting the legs used to running at a quicker pace is great for making your running outside quicken. When I've run on a treadmill in a gym, I often saw runners who only went there to do speed training on the treadmills.
Another way you can make your running easier whatever surface you run on, is too improve your muscle tone. Stronger hips, quads, and glutes help and you will get less injuries by building up these support muscles. These muscles can still be beneficial on a treadmill as well as outside runners. The energy expenditure is lower on a treadmill than running outside.
There are advantages for running being easier on a treadmill. If you are rehabilitating from an injury, it's good idea to ease back into exercising on a treadmill rather than outside. It's kinder to your joints. Sometimes you just need the convenience of a treadmill when you can't run outside for whatever reason. If you need to get a certain mileage in for your running schedule. It could make sense to do it on an easier surface.
How to make treadmill running equally as hard as outside
The same scientific article I pointed to above recommends you put the treadmill at an incline of 1% to equal the energy cost of running outside. That said it's definitely not the same as running outside as the belt moving beneath you utilizes your leg muscles slightly differently. Running on a treadmill does not perfectly imitate running outside.
If you are training for a race then it's best not to do too much of the preparation on a treadmill. The way your feet and leg muscles have to cope with slightly different terrain requirements every time you land and push off, means a treadmill can never really replicate outside running. So use it a few times per week if you can. You get less injuries on a treadmill.
That's not to say the treadmill does not have uses for runners who usually exercise outside. I've already covered the weather and safety aspect where perhaps it's dark outside and a treadmill run would feel safer. But a treadmill can be excellent for particular types of workouts for runners. Speed work comes into it's own on a treadmill.
Speed work is good on a treadmill because you have the ability to set your own incline, speed and distance. You can do tempo, fartlek and interval runs to a good standard. You can even do high intensity training. All this makes the treadmill a great piece of equipment to use. Combine it with running outside for the best results.
Thinking of buying a treadmill? See my top 3 recommended treadmills for 2022