When you go for a run, do you opt for the treadmill or the outdoors?
Outside is free, with fresh air and (hopefully) attractive surroundings, but inside is always temperate, requires minimal prep and you can easily keep track of time and distance. Both methods certainly have their advantages, but they also come with a few disadvantages, which might not be immediately obvious.
We dissect which choice is best for you and your fitness goals:
For building muscle and strength
Winner: Running outdoors
Running in itself isn't a unilateral muscle building strategy, but it does work the muscles in the lower body. Running outdoors gets the glory here due to the natural hills you’ll encounter while running outside, particularly on trails. Due to the uneven surfaces, you tend to work those smaller muscles, which help keep everything stable by supporting the major muscles.
The varying terrain outside allows you to mix up training more than you can on a treadmill. Running uphill will train your calves and glutes. Speeding downhill, which you can't do on a treadmill, will work your quads.
Not only is running in green environments a more visually rewarding experience than being holed up in a gym but doing it on grass is excellent for leg strengthening and foot control.
On treadmills, the conveyor belt moves towards you and you stay in the same place. All you do is lift your foot. You don’t actually propel yourself forward. This makes it less work, giving you a false sense of your actual fitness level.
For improving sport performance
Surrounding yourself with tech might not bring the inner peace of the great outdoors but a treadmill can reward you with biofeedback, enabling you to monitor and track your progress and thereby helping you to improve your performance.
The machine includes sensors to record your heart rate, to monitor your speed, to monitor the distance you've run and to estimate the number of calories burned. You can then use this data to your advantage, for instance, by running until you hit a certain number of calories or until you increase your time. Yes, wearable tech will help if you're outdoors but this requires investment and takes time to set up.
Of course, if you are looking to train for an outdoor sporting event, training in race conditions is ideal as it will help prepare your muscles. Road running is particularly good for getting you ready for race day.
For losing weight
Winner: Running outdoors
The big gulps of fresh air you can fill yourself with when running outdoors won’t just help you feel more liberated, but the wind will also help you burn calories as you have to push against its resistance while propelling your legs forward. The faster you go, the harder the resistance whereas on the treadmill, you’re staying in the same place.
Another concern with the treadmill is that the calorie counters are not always accurate and can make you think you’ve torched more than you actually have.
At first glance, it seems running outdoors is the clear winner. But as a wise man once said, any workout is better than no workout! That goes for running too.