Is Running on a Treadmill as Good as Running Outside?

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Aug 07, 2018
Quick Bites

  • Treadmill running equals running outside with simple adjustments
  • For this result, you have to set the treadmill at 1% grade accuracy
  • Treadmill running is beneficial when weather or footing are bad

A lot of fitness enthusiasts wonder if running on a treadmill is the same as running outside. There have been conflicting opinions and scientific research has found that running on a treadmill is more or less the same as running outside if you make a few easy adjustments. In fact, you can perform some workouts better on a treadmill than you can outside.

However, there sure are certain disadvantages of running on a treadmill, and for some runners, a mile on the “hamster wheel” feels like ten miles outdoors. So, let us discuss the potential benefits and negatives of treadmill running. And let’s learn how we can adjust our workouts so that our treadmill running becomes enjoyable and equivalent to logging miles outdoor

Running on a Treadmill vs. Running Outside

While you run on a treadmill, the belt moves under you and you don’t have to counter wind which you will have to do when you run outside, so the treadmill running is easier. In theory, you could jump up and down on a treadmill and it would record that you’re running at the speed of a moving belt. Whereas, when you run outside, your legs will have to prompt your motion forward while pushing through wind.

Scientists have proven that setting the treadmill to a 1% grade accurately reflects the energy costs and imitates outdoor running. So, you can set the treadmill to a 1% grade to offset the lack of wind resistance and make the same effort on the treadmill belt as running outside.

Supporting research has shown that VO2 max (speed vs. oxygen consumption) is the same when running on a treadmill as compared to outside, which clearly demonstrates that running on a treadmill, is as effective as running outside.

Furthermore, research reveals that bio-mechanical patterns did not change when research volunteers ran on a treadmill versus when they ran outside. Therefore, it can decisively be concluded that running on a treadmill has the same effect as running outside when done at a 1% grade.

Benefits of Running on Treadmill vs. Running Outside

There can be some instances when running in a treadmill might actually be better than running outside.

When the Weather is Bad

A hot weather particularly, or bad footing makes it difficult to run outside. Don’t be afraid to hit the treadmill on the days you need to. It is better to have a good workout on the treadmill than suffering through a hot or rainy day or getting hurt.

Imitating Race Courses while Indoors

Many advanced treadmills offer the function of creating your own unique course profile, which you can use to feign the exact course you’re training for. Just program the machine, or if you don’t have that option, manually adjust the incline levels based on the course map, and you can train on the course any day of the week.

Fluid Intake without Slowing

To teach yourself how to eat and drink without stopping, you must practise taking fluids and carbohydrates on the run. Running a tempo run or long run on the treadmill will allow you to practice eating and drinking without slowing down.

Disadvantages of Running on Treadmill vs. Running Outside

Despite of its unique benefits, running on treadmill can be detrimental to your long-term development if the only time you run outside is to race. Here’s what you should watch out for:

No Pacing in Treadmill

It is easy to “set it and forget it” and get locked in a target pace on treadmill. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t teach you how to properly find and maintain pace on your own. Executing race splits is critical on a race day and just training on a treadmill won’t help.

Treadmill is Boring


You don’t have scenery passing you by and nothing to take your mind off the blinking lights, running on treadmill can make it easy to look at the clock every 30 seconds. Also, unlike running outside, you can’t “feel” the finish line getting closer and have that natural sense of the distance remaining while running on a treadmill.

The bottom line is that you should approach running on a treadmill with moderation. It can be a great training tool, especially for those who cannot afford to run outside, given their climatic or geographic conditions. However, don’t neglect the specific skills you need to develop by running outside on occasion.

Image: Shutterstock

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