Treadmill vs Running Outdoors: The Pros and the Cons

Treadmill vs Running

As the question goes: treadmill versus running outdoors?

I have to raise my hand here and say that running on the treadmill at the gym was how I first learned to build up endurance. It’s great because I was kind of embarrassed to be seen running down a public road… for about five steps before I had to stop because I was just so unfit! Also, running on a treadmill, you had your numbers on the screen in front of you so you could see just how long you’ve been running without needing to stop to check your phone or watch. Also, it was great for watching trashy reality TV shows on the E! Channel at the gym – I’d have no choice but to keep going because I wanted to see that particular episode of Kendra to the very end!

I would run with the treadmill grade set to 1 because I learned that that’s the equivalent of the wind resistance you’d get when actually running outdoors. I’d also make sure to warm up with some walking at a speed of about 5.5 for about five minutes, gradually building up to 6.5, and then to a leisurely jog at 8.5, some quick intervals ranging between 9.5 to 11.5, and then a cool down walk for about five minutes after my run at gradually decreasing speeds.

Running on the treadmill was great for helping me to build up my endurance so I was able to run anywhere from between 15 to 30 minutes. Also, I do think that the moving belt of the treadmill helps to keep you going so that’s a bit of an extra assistance for beginners – plus that temptation to lean on the hand bars when you’re running- a big no-no: take your hands off those bars right now! However, I could never get the right posture for running on the treadmill and I kept getting knee and ankle pains that would force me to get off the treadmill for the next one to two weeks in order to recuperate.

What I did find when I started running outdoors, however, was that my body automatically  fell into a natural gait that my body was most comfortable with. It was from that day on that the knee and ankle injuries which had been plaguing me grew less frequent. (It wasn’t just my running form, though. Having proper shoes and also doing the right cool down stretches definitely helped keep the niggling injuries at bay). Also, I suddenly found that I was running faster and further when I was running outdoors. I was more motivated to keep running and it’s true what they say, even though there’s several TV channels to choose from at the gym, I enjoyed running outdoors more because there’s so much going on and it’s just really lovely to be out in nature and feel the fresh air on your face. I enjoy seeing other runners on the footpaths (hello there, hotties!) and children playing and other people just out for a walk or a picnic at the parks or by the river. And surprisingly, because I often do late morning or mid-afternoon runs in the winter, I end up getting a great tan all through winter rather than in summer when I wait until the sun’s gone down and the weather’s cooled before I get started on my runs!

Another thing I found was that even when I draped a towel over my treadmill screen and simply tuned into the TV channels or a music playlist, I was always clock-watching at the gym and finding it really hard to stay focused doing a long run whereas when I ran outdoors, I found it much easier to stay in the zone and hit my distance goals.

While running on a treadmill helped me build up my initial endurance, it was the outdoor footpaths that made running really fun and a lifestyle commitment and a passion.

Which brings us back to that initial question? Treadmill or running outdoors? For me, personally, these are the pros and cons I’ve discovered about each option:

Treadmill pros:

  • It helped me build up my initial endurance.
  • I can run on the treadmill in the gym even when it’s dark, raining or way too hot outside.
  • It’s safer than running outdoors sometimes – you’re not likely to get mugged or attacked at the gym!
  • My gym’s treadmills are rad because we can plug our headphones straight into the treadmills and flip TV channels on the treadmill screen itself.
  • The screen also allows you to track your pace, speed, distance, heart rate and time all at once, all the time.
  • There’s a place to hang your towel and pop your water bottle for taking convenient sips throughout the run. There’s even a space for placing your magazine or a book if you like having a read while running!
  • It’s great for runner beginners who are a bit shy of starting out on public roads, like me!
  • Also, running outdoors is great for avoiding obnoxious drivers honking or wolf-whistling at you or being choked to death by smog on urban roads!
  • Hotties at the gym! Need I say more? ; )
  • I also find treadmills are great for doing interval runs.

Treadmill cons:

  • I find I always watch the clock when I’m on the treadmill – on the other hand, please remember this is my personal experience and not everyone ends up clock watching on the treadmill – some people find they log better times and distances while on the treadmill than they do outdoors!
  • I also find my gait and posture tend to worsen on the treadmill, for some reason.
  • I get bored more easily on the treadmill, in spite of all that TV watching!
  • Reading a magazine might not be so great for your running posture because you’d be craning your neck down at the words on the page.
  • To have a treadmill, you do have to fork out the expense of owning one of these babies or paying for a gym membership.

Pros of running outdoors:

  • It’s great to be outdoors and getting some sunshine and fresh air.
  • You also get a really great tan!
  • I find I fall into a natural gait that my body’s most comfortable with when I’m running.
  • I find I’m able to run faster and longer when I’m outdoors.
  • There’s a great variety of outdoor paths and trails to choose from when I’m bored with my current trail.
  • There’s a lot more to be seen outdoors when you’re running than when you’re at the gym – the wildlife, children playing, people taking walks, cute dogs, curious cats, rainbows, amazing sunsets and sunrises, quirky sidewalk graffiti, folks doing outdoor boot camps, old folks playing chess, cool park sculptures and the beautiful scenery, etc…
  • Running outdoors also means I get to know my city a lot better than I used to.
  • It also means that I’m more likely to do an outdoor run when I’m traveling overseas, which is a great way to keep fit and see some local sights while on a trip…
  • Sharing the footpaths with other hottie runners ; )
  • Free/cheap running apps on the phone means we can keep track of our pace, speed, distance and running time while we’re outdoors.
  • I know we can chose the Hills option on the treadmill, but nothing beats a challenge like running up real hills and steps!
  • Speaking of challenges, I do find I challenge myself more when I’m running outdoors. I also feel like I’m working much harder and, I don’t know if this is a mental thing, but it feels like I lose weight faster when I’m running outdoors than on a treadmill!
  • Being able to choose from a variety of running surfaces – concrete footpaths, grass surfaces and – I haven’t done this one in a while, but plan to – sand/beach running!
  • Running outdoors doesn’t cost you the price of a treadmill or a gym membership!

Cons of running outdoors:

  • Annoying but true: there’s a higher possibility of getting mugged/attacked while you’re on a slightly secluded footpath away from traffic.
  • Also, some urban areas not just not conducive to running outdoors – I once lived in a pretty dangerous neighborhood for a short time and there was no way I’d go out running by myself around the streets there.
  • Also, if you live in an urban area that doesn’t have any parks or rivers or the like to run by, running on broken concrete footpaths where you have to stop at the end of each block to keep an eye out for traffic in order to cross the road isn’t so much fun – you have to watch your step to keep from rolling your ankle on the cracks and keep breaking your stride each time you wanna cross a road!
  • The smog and pollution if you’re running on a high-traffic road.
  • Being hassled by obnoxious drivers peeling past on the road.
  • Being splashed on by drivers going over puddles on the road – yuck!
  • Speaking of which, when it’s raining, super hot, or pretty dark, it’s a lot harder to wanna get out there and conquer your 10kms.
  • You don’t have somewhere to conveniently park your water bottle while you’re running (I’m not that much a fan of carrying water bottles when I’m running because I don’t like the sound/feel of water sloshing around in the bottle in my hand as I’m running so I settle for public water fountains when they’re available and always have a big bottle of water waiting for me at the end of my run. But who knows, one day I may invest in a Camelbak hydration pack….)

So that’s it, those are my pros and cons both for running on the treadmill and running outdoors. Like I said, I’ve benefited from both and I would say it’s really down to your personal experience and/or circumstances on whichever one you prefer. Right now, I’m more of an outdoor runner though when the weather gets too hot or the winter storms move in, it’s much nicer to head into the gym and do some intervals on the treadmill while watching a little TV!

Which do you prefer: running outdoors or on a treadmill?

2 COMMENTS

  1. Freya Osborne

    Really important points included.Although road running is better but a best treadmill can give same taste like road running.I think if anyone has some possibilities to running on the road, he/she should avoid treadmill.But if not possible, then treadmill can be the best solution for him/her.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing an awesome content.It appereatite me to write this comment

    • MarilynChin

      Hi Freya, thanks for sharing! I do agree that whenever I can, I try to run outdoors rather than on the treadmill. Though some days (like on super rainy days or super hot days), the treadmill is an awesome alternative! Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂

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