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Running on a treadmill vs running outside

Running on a treadmill vs running outside

Author – Peter Bristow, Personal Trainer.

If the weather is looking sketchy, going for a run on a treadmill might just save you from looking like a drowned rat at the end of your training session. But do treadmills give your body and muscles the necessary preparation for an outdoor running event like the Real Insurance Sydney Harbour 10km? As a personal trainer, I’m often asked whether it’s just as good to run on a treadmill as it is to go for a road run. Here’s what I say…

Is there a difference between training on a treadmill and training outside?

Running outside is best if you’re training for an outdoor running event, although it’s still possible to take part if training on a treadmill is your only option and the event is around the 10km mark or less. Alternatively, you can combine both running outside and running on a treadmill as part of your preparation. If you are training for an event that’s longer than 10km – such as a marathon – outdoor sessions must be included as part of your training program as they are essential to develop the conditioning required for a race this distance.


When training for ANY event your program should include sessions that will simulate the conditions you’ll have to contend with during the race itself. Therefore if you’re looking to run the Real Insurance Sydney Harbour 10km, your training should mainly be on the road.


The NUMBER ONE RULE if you HAVE to do the majority of your running on a treadmill
Is to always have it on an incline of 2 degrees


Let’s cover off the PROs and CONs of Treadmill Running vs Running Outside


Running outside – PROS

  • Running outdoors is by far the best preparation for a running event
  • You are training as you intend to compete
  • It presents an undulating surface, with your body having to get used to running both uphill and downhill
  • If you choose a popular training location there will be other runners working out too, which can be motivating and inspiring – and you may be less likely to stop when the going gets tough
  • If you choose picturesque locations, or different courses that get you out to explore your city, you will find training will become more of an ‘event’ in your day. You could even put your kids on a bike while you are running and make it a family day out. You might even find yourself looking forward to it!
  • Running outdoors doesn’t ALWAYS have to be on the road – you could mix up your sessions by running at the beach, park or through the bush
  • Running with a friend, family or as part of a group is much easier outside
  • There is the option of joining a running group. This will provide extra support and the accountability of working with a personal trainer
  • It is much safer and easier to do high intensity interval training and sprint training outdoors or at the park
  • Going for a run outside is completely free!


Running outside – CONS

  • If the weather is inclement you may be less likely to go running outside
  • Running outside is harder on your joints. A treadmill may be better to complete rehab work or if you are a beginner and need to build up your distances before tackling longer runs outside
  • If you are running in areas of high traffic volume, noise and air pollution may be an issue making the treadmill a more pleasant option
  • Maybe you work shifts or can’t train during the day? Running at night can be unsafe
  • If you live in an area with no or limited footpaths, road running may not be wise


Running on a Treadmill – PROS

  • It’s safer to train on a treadmill if you cannot do your running during daylight hours
  • You can’t use bad weather as an excuse! If you have access to a treadmill, you can run – rain hail or sweltering heat!
  • Access to technology! If you are at a gym, you’ll probably be able to watch television while you’re running, which might be a welcome distraction. If you have access to wifi, you can update you Facebook status mid-training session – or even better – watch motivational sporting clips on YouTube to inspire you to achieve a personal best distance or speed
  • Running on a treadmill is easier on your joints and if you have injuries it can be an excellent way of easing yourself back into training. It can also help beginners increase their speed or distance with less impact
  • A treadmill allows you to incorporate cross training into your training program. Adding a weights session to the end, beginning or throughout your training is much easier to implement in a gym environment


Running on a Treadmill – CONS

  • Treadmill running is much easier than road running. Simple as that. Although it can be used to complement your training regime if needed
  • Due to the fact the belt is moving under your feet, there is less hamstring activation than running outside
  • A treadmill is not safe for interval or sprint training. A stumble on a treadmill at high speeds can cause serious injury
  • There are a wide range of treadmills and some have weight restrictions or are not designed for people over 120kgs (this is not likely to apply at gyms that use high quality treadmills)
  • Expense! Whether you’ve purchased a treadmill for the home or are using one at the gym, you’re going to have to pay for it!
  • If you are forking out for a treadmill for home, ensure you pay for a high quality product with follow up servicing


In Summary
Running outside is a much more effective way of preparing for your running event, but a treadmill can be a great addition to your training program. I recommend at least 60 – 70% of your training is outdoors to ensure your body is up to the task well before the event. It’ll also mean you’re most likely to enjoy the build up to the race – and should mean you’ll notch up a time that you’re happy with.

So go throw those running shoes on, whether it be training on a treadmill or running outdoors!

Get into it!


Peter Bristow and Shannon Bell are qualified Personal Trainers and Owners of Balmain Personal Training in Sydney. They have more than 20 years combined experience in helping people achieve their fitness goals.