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Is Running on a Treadmill Easier Than Running Outside?

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Runners have their own preferences, whether it is treadmill running, running outside on the road, or exploring trails. Some people are adamant that treadmill running is easier than road running, while others respectfully disagree.

Is one easier than the other?

Inquiring minds want to know.

6 Reasons why Treadmill Running is Easier

Running on a treadmill can indeed feel easier than running outdoors for various reasons, each impacting the running experience in different ways.

Here’s a deeper dive into why this might be the case:

  1. Assistance from the Belt: The moving belt of a treadmill aids in propelling runners forward, reducing the amount of energy needed to generate forward motion compared to the resistance encountered when pushing off a stationary ground outdoors.
  2. Controlled Climate: Indoor running eliminates the challenges posed by outdoor elements such as rain, wind, heat, and snow. This stable environment can make it easier to maintain a consistent pace.
  3. Mental Distraction Opportunities: For some, the indoor environment offers a mental break from the focus required when navigating outdoor terrains. The ability to watch television or listen to music without the need for awareness of surrounding traffic, pedestrians, or obstacles can make the time pass more quickly and reduce perceived effort.
  4. Consistently Flat Surface: Treadmills offer a uniformly flat and predictable surface, which can be easier to run on compared to outdoor trails or roads that may have varying inclines, declines, and surface irregularities.
  5. Reduced Impact: The design of most treadmills includes a cushioned belt that absorbs some of the impacts with each step, offering a gentler experience on the joints compared to the hard surfaces of roads or sidewalks.
  6. Pacing and Training Features: Treadmills often come equipped with programmable settings that allow runners to set specific speeds and inclines. This can be particularly useful for structured workouts, such as interval training or hill work.

However, it’s worth mentioning that running on a treadmill might not work all the muscles you use when running outside, especially on uneven ground. This could change how well you run overall.

Also, because there’s no wind to push against on a treadmill, running can seem easier. To make it feel more like outdoor running, you can set the treadmill’s slope to 1%.

When Might Treadmill Running Feel Harder than Road Running?

running on a treadmill
Running on a treadmill

Some runners report that treadmill running feels harder to them than road running. This can be for many reasons. First, if you find treadmill running to be boring and monotonous, the time can crawl along. For those athletes, running even a few miles feels like torture.

Second, you might feel as if your gait and stride are restricted when running on the treadmill. Did you know that most runners do not use the entire treadmill belt? Avoid hugging the front of the treadmill and try to use the entire belt for more running comfort.

Running on a treadmill actually uses different muscle groups than running outside. This can lead to some soreness both while running and after.

Lastly, running at a consistent pace over time actually uses more energy than naturally slowing up and speeding up like you do when running outside.

Are Long Distance Runs Harder on a Treadmill?

There is not one answer to this question. While some runners feel that running is easier on a treadmill, there are others who would just as soon log all runs outdoors.

When distance training, you really will need to decide for yourself which is a better decision for you.

Is a Mile on the Treadmill the Same as a Mile Outside?

A mile is essentially a mile whether you are on the treadmill or outside. If you are training for a race, however, you should try to do some running outdoors to prepare.

Bearing in mind that you don’t get any variation in climate and road surface on a treadmill, you might find yourself ill-prepared on race day if you do all of your training inside.

Why Can I Run Fast on a Treadmill but Not Outside?

Ask yourself a few questions if you feel this to be true. How long are you running? If you are doing short sprints on your ‘mill, you may be able to do the same amount of time fast on a track. Give yourself a chance to prove that!

Are you running with good running form on the treadmill or are you hanging on to the arm bars? If you are not using good form and are relying on the side rails, you are not really doing all of the work.

Perhaps you are not pushing yourself outdoors like you do on a treadmill. Your body should be capable of running the same paces outside as inside. Just give yourself a chance to do so.

Is it Healthier to Run Outside or On a Treadmill?

Again, if you suffer from asthma or if there is low air quality you might be best off running inside. For someone who might be hesitant to run outside on slippery surfaces, running on a treadmill in the winter could be the best choice.

Having said that, running outside in the fresh air and getting vitamin D is so good for your body! The decision to run indoors or outside really is a personal choice that depends on the situation you are in.

Personally, I choose to train on a variety of different surfaces and in many ways. Sometimes running on a treadmill is the safest decision for me, but I do log the majority of my miles outdoors. I also enjoy trail running but tend only to do that when I am with a group.

My miles are logged on the road, on trails as well as on a treadmill and I am very happy about that combination because it meets my needs perfectly.

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