Fall is here and you are excited to run in the cooler temperatures. Summer can get hot and temperatures more conducive to baking a cake than running make it difficult to run outdoors. Excited to begin your running journey outside, you wake up to find the temperature in the 40’s a gusty wind and enough rain to make you consider building an ark. You have a decision to make. Run outdoors and brave the elements, hit the treadmill or enjoy another cup of coffee, curl up in a warm blanket and catch up on The Walking Dead.
Treadmills can ignite serious debate among runners questioning if they are a legitimate training tool for those that are or want to become serious about running. According to Jenny Hadfield, co-author of “Running for Mortals” and columnist for Runner’s World Blog Ask Coach Jenney, “you can still get a great workout on the treadmill,” she says. Although you can get a good cardio workout on the treadmill, there are some differences to running outdoors.
When running outdoors, you utilize different muscle groups than you do on the treadmill. Outdoors you must utilize your quads, hamstrings and calves to continually propel yourself forward. Add wind, hills and the constant resistance of the road you have to work harder to propel yourself than you do on a treadmill. The natural mechanics of a treadmill are to propel you forward. Thus, you are able to run faster but you are working more on your balance than on propulsion.
To compensate for this lack of resistance, many people set the treadmill on an aggressive incline which can be problematic. This is unrealistic as unless you are running up Mt. Evans in Colorado, you won’t encounter this when running outdoors. An aggressive incline will alter your stride and over strain you muscles, in particular your quads and hamstrings which can lead to injury. If you are looking for more resistance, set your incline to 2-5% range and if possible have the incline change during your run to more closely simulate outdoor running.
One of the benefits of running outdoors is you can lose yourself in thought and let the miles pass by without having to focus on what you are doing. Running on a treadmill can be extremely boring and requires continual concentration so you don’t misstep and be launched off the back of the machine like a jet fighter off an aircraft carrier. Trust me this happens and ALWAYS at the gym in front of your fellow exercisers.
Running indoors also requires proper ventilation and fluid replacement. Proper ventilation and fluid intake are critical. Consuming fluids on a treadmill is an art and takes practice so you don’t have a one person accident (see above).
While running outdoors in the elements can be tough, indoor running requires either a trip to the gym or a substantial investment on a quality treadmill for home. Additionally, if you shell out the bucks for a treadmill, it will take up valuable space in your home.
So what’s the verdict? While treadmill running can provide a good workout, my personal preference is to run outdoors whenever possible. If you are looking for fitness only, then treadmill running may be your ticket. If you are more serious or want to do some races and improve your speed, my preference is running outdoors. Having done both I find running outdoors provides an overall better workout and gives me experience in the same conditions I will face on race day.
Here is to being fit for a lifetime!
Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, exercise and endurance enthusiast. He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.