Running on a treadmill vs outside

Almost always when I go to the gym whether it is here at Penn State or at home I start with the same thing. I warm up with at least ten minutes on the treadmill before I work out. However while I have been here at Penn State I have yet to run outside. I feel this is due to one of two reasons. The density of the population here, and the troubles that amount of people would have on going for a run. When I am at home, and it is a nice day out there is nothing better than going for a run around my block. It clears my head of anything that may be going on and just allows me to be free. The question of running on a treadmill as opposed to running outside is one that I have thought about sometimes but never investigated. That is why I decided to look into the two different ways of running, and the differences between the two.

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First off, it is important to acknowledge the distinct differences between running on a treadmill vs running outside. These differences span throughout all different areas of the running spectrum, and can show a runner the explicit benefits and possible drawbacks of using either of these methods of cardio-exercise.


One difference between the two different styles of running is the amount of energy exerted while doing the two respectively. According to a study done by the University of Exter runners who run outside as opposed to running on a treadmill spend extra effort running due to wind resistance and other environmental and weather factors that you do not get while running inside on a treadmill (NCBI). To account for that discrepancy, runners who use a treadmill can increase the incline of the treadmill by a one percent gradient to exert the amount of energy they would running the same speed outdoors (BBC).

Another difference between the two would be the speed at which the runners are running while exercising. According to a study done in Singapore runners have an unmatched perception of speech while running on a treadmill and overground. The study involved twenty-one participants who ran for three minutes at a preferred speed on an overground track, immediately after they completed a three minute run on a treadmill before finishing up with another three minute run outdoors overground. During their run on the treadmill the speed on the treadmill screen was blocked from the runners vision. The objective was for the runner to run at the same speed or relatively the same as the speed they chose for the outdoor run, and the speed they would run for their final outdoor run. The study found that the runners had a different perception of speed when running outdoors and on treadmills respectively. According to the article the average speed of the first outdoor run was .78 meters per second, the average speed of the treadmill run was .62 meters per second, the average speed on the third and final run was .74 meters per second. This unmatched perception is due in part to an absence of normal visual inputs that you usually get from running outdoors that are not available to a runner on a treadmill, this causes a difference between observed and expected optic flow (NCBI). Optic flow is defined as the motion of all the surface elements in the visual world (PC). This could present difficulties for runners if they are trying to train at a certain speed or intensity.

According to an article on, running on a treadmill may be in someways a little easier than running in the elements outdoors. This is because the treadmill belt assists in leg turnover which allows the runner to run at a faster clip with less resistance. This is also a reasonable explanation for why runners often find trouble correlating their running speed on the ground to their running speed on a treadmill. On the other hand according to the same article, running on a treadmill may be beneficial in that it provides less wear and tear on your body. The article states that some soft tissue “hardening” that occurs normally while running outside on pavement in a street or on a sidewalk does not occur as often while running on a treadmill. This is because the treadmill belt is a lot more forgiving than an outdoor surface (Runners World).


Overall the two types of running are different in many ways, but also similar in some too. Each have their own pros and cons. It is really a personal preference based on how heavy you want to train, run or exercise as a runner. Additionally, your decision may come down to how your body is made up and how one form suits you best. Personally I enjoy running outdoors a little better because of the added scenery, and the elements.

5 thoughts on “Running on a treadmill vs outside

  1. Rebecca Jordan Polaha

    It is really interesting how your perception of speed is skewed when you are on or off a treadmill. I can tell you really looked into this and researched a lot just by the way you explained each concept. Each side has its ups and downs but I’ll always prefer the treadmill because it pushes me to keep going.

  2. Connor Edward Opalisky

    This post is eye opening to me as someone who frequents the gym. It is interesting that treadmill running is easier than outdoor running, but the reasoning behind it made perfect sense. I wonder if this can be applied to other aspects of indoor training such as weight lifting. Is doing a curl with a weight more or less beneficial than gaining muscle from real world training such as construction or military work. Hybrid explains that there is a difference between being gym strong and real world strong. Activities like yard work, building stuff and working with wood build muscle differently than working out in a gym. The article doesn’t say if one is more beneficial than the other, but i thought it was a topic worth discussing.

  3. Zachary Morris

    I thought this article was very well written and eye opening to some of the major benefits of running outside. I have recently started going to the gym consistently and I almost always use the treadmill for cardio. If I had no personal experience with this topic I would agree that running outside seems to have more benefits than the treadmill. However, I believe that a persons’ experiences on this topic would vary based on circumstance. The problems you face at school are similar to the ones I face at home. I live in a big city and my neighborhood is particularly hilly so I’ve never really even considered running outside. The gym I work out in is on the 38th floor of a tall building, and the view is unbelievable! The treadmills all face the huge windows overlooking the city, and I often lose track of time gazing away at the skyline. This usually benefits me because I distract myself from how tired I am and wind up running more than I thought I had. While not everyone has the same experience as me, I would take the 38th floor view every time!

  4. Francis Patrick Cotter

    A new kind of treadmill, one with a curved shape rather than the standard flat belt, is said to be healthier and mimic the correct way to run. This article demonstrates that theory (
    The argument is based on the curved treadmill’s ability to correct running posture to increase muscle use and burn more fat.
    However, workout devices such as this should be observed closely and researched extensively to ensure that it is simply not a short lived and expensive fad.

  5. Melissa Fraistat

    I’m really glad I came across your blog, because I have always loved running outside, but hate running on treadmills and I had no idea that this was due to such differences in the two activities. I guess I never thought about it too much, but now that I think about it, it’s completely true that I run faster when I’m outside compared to on a treadmill. Due to this, I never feel as satisfied with my runs on a treadmill because I don’t feel as tired after, so I don’t feel as if I accomplished anything.

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