The argument over whether running outside or on a treadmill is "better" is not something new. Some people will tell you that running outdoors improves steadiness. Others will insist that a treadmill helps you sustain speed and performance levels that might otherwise lag outdoors.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer to this argument. Both methodologies have their own pros and cons based on your individual training needs and goals.
Treadmills are one of the most famous pieces of cardiovascular equipment both at home and in gyms.
Some advantages of treadmill running:
- There are no weather and temperature restrictions
- You can stop any point you want
- The cushioned, smooth surface is not hard on the joints
- You can use the washroom whenever you feel the need
- You can do it alone and at any hour of the day
- The treadmill leaves you free of all hazards for eg, inattentive people on the wrong side of the road, cars, etc.
- It gives you greater kinesthetic sense since you can watch your form in front of a mirror.
While treadmills are considered the safer option by most users, there are also plenty of treadmill-related injuries each year. These include sprains, falls, head injuries, and cardiovascular events in people who either ran too fast or overexerted. Another important point to notice is that most treadmills do not have a downward incline feature which you need to strengthen the anterior tibialis muscles at the front of your legs. Then there are no turns on a treadmill machine, which puts restrictions on your ability to improve your lateral agility.
While elite athletes use a treadmill as part of their training routine, they do the majority of their running outdoors on tracks, trails, or pavement.
The advantages of outside running are rather simple:
- You do not need an expensive gym membership
- You can even train when you’re traveling
- It provides sport-specific training for road races
- You can enjoy nature and breathe in some fresh air
- It can be more motivating as it requires you to complete a set distance rather than just stepping off a machine.
Outdoor running also brings a risk of injury. According to research, anywhere from 7.2 percent to 50 percent of runners encounter some sort of injury. Knee injuries are by far the most common, followed by the less common ones namely lower leg, foot, and ankle injuries. It can also be unsafe due to cars, stray dogs, etc.
Athletes can get the same workout by running on a treadmill or outside provided they maintain the same effort level. But "effort," here is a highly variable measure which is based not only on the heart rate but a phenomenon is known as perceived exertion. Perceived exertion refers to how difficult you consider an activity to be, irrespective of how your body responds to that activity. It is important because we tend to give up sooner if something is perceived to be difficult. This psychological component can influence how much we get out of one exercise compared to the next.
If your main intention is to maintain your cardiovascular fitness goals, a treadmill may be all that you really require. By pairing the exercise with an accurate pulse monitor, you can push yourself in the right way while still keeping well within your maximum heart rate (MHR).
On the other hand, if you are training for a race event, you will definitely benefit more from running outdoors. While you can incorporate treadmill running to improve your cardio health, you should limit it to not more than 40 percent of your overall training.
If you run outdoors, your muscles and joints will be more conditioned to the varied terrain you'll encounter in a race. You'll be able to adapt to changes in the weather better and also be able to figure when to exert extra effort when faced with elevations or known obstacles.