Why Do I Run Faster Outside Than On the Treadmill?
If you run both outside and on the treadmill, you may have noticed a difference in your speed between the two. There are differences in running on the treadmill vs outside. What are these differences? Does everyone see the same differences? Should I change how I run on one versus the other?
Is It Better To Run On a Treadmill VS Outside?
As a coach, I am frequently asked if it is better to run outside or on a treadmill. Honestly, that is not a black and white question. I have running friends who would answer that with a resounding, “Outside is better!” However, most athletes recognize that for some people, there is a time and a place for both.
For me personally, one thing it depends on is the weather. Living in Northeastern Wisconsin, there are times of the year when running outside would be difficult and potentially dangerous. One April, we were hit with a blizzard where 30 inches of snow fell in a period of about 24 hours. Could I have ventured outside to run? Possibly. However, I had a treadmill at my disposal so running on that felt smarter and safer.
We also get terribly cold temps where I live. Sometimes, with the windchill, the temps dip as low as -70 below zero. Sure, you can cover yourself up completely to prevent frostbite. However, if you have another option, that might be good to take it. My “cold threshold” is about -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Since I have good gear, I could probably run outside in temps dipping below that. But I don’t have to, so I choose not to!
How Does Running On a Treadmill Differ From Running Outside?
Many runners find that they simply feel different when they run outside versus the treadmill. For example, depending on the length and width of the track on your machine, you may find yourself varying your stride. If I run on a treadmill too many days in a row, I find my hips hurt. After a gait analysis, I realized that my run is “tighter” on a treadmill. This is likely because of the width of my machine.
There are researchers who assert that most runners’ biometrics do not vary significantly when they run outside as opposed to on a treadmill, but even a slight variation can prove noticeable.
Benefits of Running Outside
The first major benefit of running outside is you are getting fresh air and sunshine. Good old vitamin D from the sun is a crucial aspect of overall health. And even if it is overcast and cold outside, your body craves fresh air. You can’t get that running inside!
Your feet hit resistance with every step you take running. This is different than a treadmill where the belt propels you forward. Outside running also does not keep you running in a completely linear pattern. When you are on a road or sidewalk, you may have to dodge a pothole or step aside when someone walking their dog passes. All of these extra movements activate more muscles than running in a perfectly straight line.
Workouts where you pound the pavement are excellent impact activities that help you to build (and keep!) healthy bones. It is crucial to have some of these exercises in order to prevent osteoporosis.
If you are training for a race and do all of your running on a treadmill, you may find yourself shocked come race day. First off, if you don’t use your incline, you will not be prepared for hills. Also, when you run inside, you can have your fuel and hydration at your fingertips.
Training outside forces you to figure out how you will carry these items on race day. Plus, you never know what the weather will be come race day. Doing the bulk of your training runs outside forces you to face rain, wind, snow, sunshine and anything else that Mother Nature can throw your way.
Perks of a Treadmill
There are many perks of running on a treadmill, so don’t let your friends discount them. No matter what the weather, your treadmill is always safe, dry and not slippery. This makes it a great option for many people.
If you have small children at home and no one to watch them, a treadmill can make it possible for you to run while the little ones nap or play. This can be true of other home obligations also.
People who run very early in the morning or late at night sometimes feel safer running on a treadmill than putting on safety gear and venturing outside. A treadmill is a great option for people who find themselves in a strange city traveling on business. Sure, exploring on foot is fun and exciting, but not everyone is that brave. If you are on vacation or a work trip, the hotel gym’s treadmill might be the option you are searching for.
While some people find a treadmill boring, others keep their brain engaged by reading a book or watching television, which is another advantage. You can’t get that when running outside!
Treadmills also offer a controlled environment. You can dial into a certain pace and just go on autopilot. I personally love my treadmill for spadework. There is no guessing if you are hitting the pace you want to get when on the ‘mill. You just punch the number and force your body to keep up!
Do Most People Run Faster On the Treadmill Or Outside?
When runners are surveyed, very few state that they are faster on a treadmill, but there are certainly some outliers. Most runners say that they don’t manage to hit the same steady pace inside as they do outside. This could be that the treadmill calibration is not entirely “on.”
Some experts say that you could run the same pace on a treadmill as outside, but that the mental fatigue actually slows you down. In addition, most runners tend to run toward the front of the belt instead of using the whole belt. This often results in a shorter stride length.
Do You Burn More Calories Running Outside or On a Treadmill?
You actually burn more calories running outside. This is for a few reasons. First, you do not have the benefit of the track moving you forward when you are outside. Second, you are not fighting the elements on a treadmill. Sure, you can use your incline selection, but you likely are not fabricating wind.
Also, unless you have a very sophisticated treadmill, you are not replicating gently rolling hills and inclines that you would encounter on an average run. These things have an outside runner burning more calories.
It also expends more calories to run outside in heat, which you won’t get in an air-conditioned gym! The same is true for when you bundle up and run in sub-zero weather. Your body expends calories just by keeping warm.
You Can Love Both!
Although there are people who abhor the treadmill and will try to convince you to ditch it for good, the truth is it does have very clear benefits. For many people, using a treadmill sometimes and running outside sometimes brings balance and convenience to their training.
And if it keeps you running consistently, does it matter where you are running?