Coach Jeff

Written by Coach Jeff


Treadmill vs. Running Outside: Which is Best for Runners?

How does running on a treadmill compare to running outside? Is one easier than the other?

It’s a common question and despite conflicting opinions, scientific research has shown that running on the treadmill is roughly the same as running outside if you make a few simple adjustments.

In fact, there are some types of workouts you can do better on a treadmill than you can outside.

However, running on a treadmill does have its disadvantages, and for some runners, a mile on the “hamster wheel” feels like ten miles outdoors.

So, in this article, I’m going to show you the potential benefits and negatives of treadmill running, help you adjust your workouts to make treadmill running equivalent to logging miles outdoors, and give you some tips to make treadmill running more “enjoyable” when it’s necessary.

Some people love it, some people hate it, but how does running on a treadmill compare to running outside? We dug into the research and then give recommendations of when it is best to use each type.

What is the difference between running outside and on a treadmill?

We need to find out if running outside is better for us than running on a treadmill, or is it the other way around?

On one hand, with a treadmill, the belt is moving under you and there is no wind resistance for your body to counter, so it should be easier to run.

Theoretically, you could jump up and down on a treadmill and it would record that you’re running at whatever speed the belt is moving.

Outside, your legs have to propel your motion forward while pushing through the resulting wind resistance (however minor it may be).

Luckily, scientific research has proven that setting the treadmill to a 1% grade accurately reflects the energy costs and simulates outdoor running.

Therefore, by setting the treadmill to a 1% grade, you can offset the lack of wind resistance and the belt moving under you to make treadmill running the same effort as running outdoors.

Corroborating research has shown that VO2 max is the same when running on a treadmill compared to outside, clearly demonstrating that running on a treadmill is as effective as running outside.

Furthermore, research reveals that bio-mechanical patterns did not change when test subjects ran on a treadmill versus when they ran outside.

We can decisively conclude that running on a treadmill has the same effect as running outside when running at a 1% grade.

When is it better to run on a treadmill than outside?

Because we now know that running outside and running on the treadmill are basically the same at a 1% grade, we can identify the specific workouts or instances when running on a treadmill might actually be better than running outside.

When the weather and footing are bad

This is the most obvious benefit of treadmill running, but it’s important to include because elements effect every runner differently.

Personally, I have a very difficult time when it’s hot or there is bad footing; however, put me on a clear road on a cold or rainy day and I’m a machine.

You may be the opposite, so don’t be afraid to hit the treadmill on the days you need to.

Getting in a good workout on the treadmill is better than suffering through a bad run or getting hurt and we went into this in further detail on our post about why you need to run on a treadmill sometimes.

Simulating race courses while indoors

One of the unique benefits of a treadmill is the ability to simulate your goal race course.

Many of the more advanced treadmills allow you create your own unique course profile, which you can use to simulate 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.

For runners training for the Boston marathon, you can even put lifts under the back end of the treadmill to simulate downhill running.

This trick is something I learned while running as part of the Hansons Olympic Development project.

You can now simulate the pounding of the downhills on your quads and be better prepared for the opening miles on race day.

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Fluid and carbohydrate intake

As I’ve discussed many times, it’s critical that you practice taking in fluids and carbohydrates while following a marathon training schedule on your runs to teach yourself how to eat and drink without stopping.

Obviously, this can be a logistical nightmare if you don’t plan on carrying your water or gels with you.

Running a tempo run or long run on the treadmill will allow you to practice eating and drinking without slowing down.

While the treadmill won’t make the actual act of eating or drinking any easier, it can make it logistically possible.

When is it better to run on a treadmill than outside?

While running on the treadmill can have some unique advantages, it can also be detrimental to your long-term development if the only time you run outside is to race.

Here are some specific areas you need to watch out for if you’re a habitual treadmill runner:

You don’t learn how to pace on a treadmill

When running on a treadmill, it’s easy to “set it and forget it” and just lock into a target pace. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t teach you how to properly find and maintain pace on your own. As a consequence, you stunt the development of your internal effort and pacing instincts.

On race day, when executing race splits is critical, you won’t have developed that fine sense of pacing that is crucial to running a negative split and finishing strong.

Remember, we found lots of interesting statistics about why negative splits are better for runners chasing a PR.

The treadmill is boring

For the majority of runners, running on the treadmill is boring.

Without scenery passing you by and something to take your mind off the blinking lights in front of you, it’s too easy to look at the clock every 30 seconds and get discouraged that more time hasn’t passed since your last glance.

Likewise, when you’re running a tough workout outside, you can “feel” the finish line getting closer and you have a more natural sense of the distance remaining.

On a treadmill, your mind can’t visualize the finish line, so it becomes harder to concentrate when the pace gets hard and you need to push yourself.

In my opinion, you should approach running on a treadmill like you should with everything in life – in moderation.

What’s the bottom line?

The treadmill can be a great training tool and essential for those of us who live in harsh weather environments (both hot and cold).

However, don’t neglect the specific skills you need to develop by running outside on occasion.

Do you have any good tips for killing the boredom on a treadmill or unique ways you’ve implemented treadmill training? Let us know in the comments section, we would love to hear your story.

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128 Responses on “Treadmill vs. Running Outside: Which is Best for Runners?

  1. Hi Jeff,
    I wanted to ask a little more about using the treadmill for actual workouts versus recovery / base building runs. I feel like your article suggests that, overall, running on the treadmill (at 1% grade) is essentially equivalent to actual running, save the pacing and other caveats listed above. Are tempo and interval workouts OK to do on the treadmill (and occassionally versus more regularly)? I kind of feel like the treadmill is “cheating” because it sets the pace so it kind of forces the effort on days where you are maybe feeling lazy. I travel often and can’t always find outdoor spots to run, but almost always have a treadmill in the hotel gym. I just wanted to get a sense of whether or not treadmills are really a fair substitute for tough workouts, and what is the maximum relative frequency you’d advise using them for that purpose? Apologies for the long-winded question 🙂

    • Hey Brent, I also questioned Jeff on this and was reassured that the workout remains the same. He did, however, suggest I try and incorporate the occasional run outside using a route with hills. This of course being in order to replicate a hilly race. I was of the same mindset as you in feeling like it was somehow cheating but if you look at it, your legs are still moving at the speed you have set on the treadmill which means you are capable of running at that pace.

      I did a lot of treadmill running this past winter and was worried I was going to lose some speed. I did a half marathon last weekend and wasn’t sure how well it would go since I hadn’t run outside in awhile. I felt great, ran the pace I was wanting to maintain and ended posting a 2 minute PR! Hope this eases your mind a bit.

      I’m sure Coach Jeff will explain things a little clearer.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, John. I know it always helps to have someone who has been there and done that – makes the advice much easier to follow.

      Tempo and interval workouts are fine to do on a treadmill (tempos seem to be easier because intervals can be tough to get the belt starting and stopping quick enough, but that’s more logistical than physiological). Running the workout is definitely not cheating and will get you the work you need. It’s certainly better than missing a run or trying to head out in an unknown and being interrupted by dead ends, stop lights, and traffic you weren’t aware of.

      Of course, because of the principle of specificity, you do want to run outside when you can. It is slightly different outside (undulations, weather, etc.) so it’s good to have that practice.

      My opinion is that if you’re getting a good mix or at least running outside 1 or 2 days per week at least, you’ll be okay. I wouldn’t go 7 days a week if you can avoid it.

      Hope that helps.

  2. I am running to do my police agility testing. I can do better timing running a mile and a half in the inside of the local mall verses running a mile and a half running on a treadmill is that possible?

  3. I do a lot more running on a treadmill that I would probably do in a perfect world but with the times of my runs and balancing a full life, it often means treadmill run or no run. I will pick the treadmill. I have a page on my blog devoted to treadmill running and here is a post on how I overcome the boredom:

    I must add, I do aim to still incorporate road runs, especially for the 2+ hour runs, as often as possible to get my body ready for the impact of a road marathon.

  4. I’m one of those people who absolutely finds running outside boring. I’m one of the minority, I know, but I hate it. Absolutely hate it! I love running on the treadmill with a big fan blowing right at me and keeping me cool, and I turn on a tv show that sucks me in. I hardly pay any attention to the time, but when I’m outside, I literally count the number of songs that are playing so I have an idea of when my run will finally be over. I wish there was a better way for me to enjoy running outside. The scenery does nothing for me.

      • Hello Coach Jeff,
        This is a wonderful article highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of using the treadmill. One of the best in fact that i came across while searching this particular topic.
        I started running last year and found it to be a highly enjoyable experience. I took part in my first half marathon and finished it with an avg pace of 6m 20sec. However, i had this observation to make, when i run outdoors, after 3-4 runs, i develop a pain just below my left knee and i am forced to stop running for at least a week or so. This problem does not arise when i am running on the treadmill.
        Since, i plan to take part in more marathons and you said it is then important to mix up the routine. I just wanted to have your opinion on what i could be doing wrong and how to correct it?
        Many a thanks in advance

    • In response to those who hate running outdoors, a great alternative to watching the slowly passing scenery and a close second to watching your favorite TV show: books on tape! I tend to get bored running outdoors too, but the minute I get some headphones and my favorite book going, I completely forget I’m running. has a great selection and is very easy to use. Happy running.

    • I feel the exact same way as you, Jen also. I love my treadmill. I’m addicted to it. I still try a run outdoors every now and then but don’t love it at all. It’s grueling for me. Not to mention that I always get shin splints outside running on pavement. I never get shin splints on my treadmill and I can go longer durations too. I don’t understand why these differences exists. But always increase my speed as I go, end with a sprint and then slow down decreasingly til I stop. Jeff, do you know why I might get shin splints only on pavement?

      • Hi April, if you have found what works for you, by all means keep doing it. Especially if you find it does not bother your shins 🙂 It could be because you alter your running form on the treadmill, especially if you use an incline. This prevents you from over striding, which could be why you do not hit your shins so hard with the impact. It would be impossible for us to tell you why without seeing you, but keep up the treadmill if it works for you 🙂

    • Echo what Coach Jeff says.
      My wife started doing a couch to 5K program and “gently nudged” me to do it as well. I had ACL replacement back in 2003 and recently, I think it’s becoming problematic. The first couple days out, my knee swelled up and was quite painful, but after that was much better. I’ve taken about a month off (mostly due to my laziness) and now my knee is in worse shape than when I was running. I have a desk job and when I sit here for too long, when I stand up, it takes a while for it to get nice and bendy enough for me to walk.
      It seems as if the running and pounding of the pavement actually strengthened my knee, rather than tearing it up like I thought it would!

  5. Thanks for the information. I’m training for long triathlons and a marathon and I too was/am worried about the use of treadmills. I run almost exclusively on treadmills because they are easier on my legs — a softer landing surface — and on a recurring hamstring injury and also I can run inside where it is cooler. I live in FL and August is brutal. I believe that if I attempted to run the same distances outside at this time of year I would have to spend a lot more time either recovering from the dehydration and heat or risking leg injury. I will try your 1% solution too. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

  6. At the age of 36 I gave up running because my joints were in pain due to the hard surface impact. Took up swimming instead. At 63 I was asked to run with my grandson, 12, at a 3.5 km running event. Loved it. Started running again, but in the gym on a treadmill. Love it. No pain at all! TV screens and MP3 player and air conditioning and the atmosphere of running with other people of all ages. I am now 66, and in addition to a thrice weekly one-km swim I run 10 km on the treadmill once a week (at the modest pace of 9 km) and I have no pain at all, my age seniority notwithstanding. So hooray for treadmills !

  7. I guess I’m one of the few that enjoys outside . I also find when I run on the treadmill my knees tend to be killing me after , I don’t know why but I stop i more run outside where I find that I don’t have any problem with my knees .

  8. Have an odd situation I wanted to throw out to community:
    I’m a pretty serious runner (6:40 marathon pace), who purchased a high-end treadmill (Landice L7) treadmill last year to use during Chicago’s horrible winters. I had always heard that Treadmills were actually easier on the knees/joints than running outside, but I started experiencing MAJOR knee and hip issues when running on the treadmill last winter. I had the treadmill service agency come out to evaluate, and they said it checked out fine. I just assumed this was an age or degenerative thing from over 20 years of running, and thought my running days were simply running out. When Spring came and I started running outside again (street running) symptoms went away (although, like an idiot, I didn’t not draw correlation between shift away from treadmill to being pain-free). It was only when I used the treadmill again after 6 months this week and started experiencing same pains, it hit me: Are treadmills actually WORSE for some runners than running outside? I’ve googled this topic and scoured the internet, and not once have I found an instance where treadmills are actually found to CAUSE injuries vs prevent them. I’m really looking for guidance here, as winter’s rapidly approaching again, and I need to figure out what the heck I’m going to do! Please HELP!! Thanks!

    • Tough question to answer specifically, Frank but most likely your form on a treadmill is different than outside. Maybe you’re unconsciously scared of falling off the back, so you don’t generate enough hip extension. Or, maybe you pick your feet up more to prevent hitting the front of the treadmill. I think the different form on treadmill vs. outside is the issue.

  9. Pingback: Is It Better To Run On A Treadmill Or Outdoors? - Choices, Choices

  10. Yeah, try jumping up and down on a treadmill and see how fast you can get the belt moving. The belt is imparting a force onto your feet every second you’re in contact with. the only difference between a treadmill and the road is the air resistance

  11. I enjoy running and due to my schedule, I barely road run outside. I used to run on the treadmill at home but would get bored fast and I know a few running partners who would experience the same results running inside on a treadmill.
    One afternoon, I decided to relocate the treadmill at home and took it out under the carport and things have changed for me. I don’t get bored as fast and have been run longer. The days I run when the sun is out is just hard but I tend to keep myself hydrated and feel great.

  12. Good tips. I’ve been a treadmill runner since 2003 after being dx with Hydrocephalus at age 42 and 7 resulting head surgeries including a crainiotomy for a subdural hematoma. I am currently double shunted with ventricular peritoneal shunts. I recovered by walking gradually, building up my endurance, and loosing 70 lbs. I don’t get bored at all on the treadmill. There is plenty to think about such as constant change in form (balance and posture) to run with maximum efficiency. I can stop whenever I want and only have to walk as far as the shower(biggest +). I can monitor my training more closely, avoid inclement weather, and not have obstacles to trip on or over on the treadmill. I’ve never fallen off. The only time I run outdoors is when I run the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. I am now a six year consecutive finisher

  13. Hey Jeff,
    I’m trying to understand what the actual speeds were in the trial. I read an article today on Runner’s World that said the 1% incline only matters for people who can run a 4:28 pace or faster referring to the same research. Your thoughts?

  14. While I’ve often read about the wind resistance offered by outdoor running (and the need to account for it on the treadmill by inclining the deck), I haven’t read anything about momentum.

    Doesn’t the forward momentum of our bodies help us on an outdoor run? And isn’t it true that we don’t have the benefit of momentum on a treadmill because our bodies aren’t moving forward?

    Dan DiPiro
    PS – Trying to recall 10th-grade physics lessons is one way to pass the time on a treadmill run…maybe not the most fun way.

  15. I’ve been running on a treadmill in a basement facing a blank white wall for about 10 months now. My workouts were suffering due to the increased level of boredom. I have recently discovered an app called BitGym. It simulates runs through various venues i.e. Rockie Mountains, Desert Southwest, the streets of Chicago. Some how by using the front facing camera on an ipad, tablet or smartphone it detects your speed and automatically adjusts the speed of the video. The videos are filled with breath taking scenery and sounds of nature. Each workout lasts approx. 30 minutes. It can be used with treadmills and elliptical machines. Since I’ve been using BitGym, I look forward to my workouts and run further, faster.

  16. You asked on tips on how to pass the boredom on treadmills.

    My personal thing to get through a long run is well.. I play video games, specifically japanese role play games (turn based) as you can pretty much play with one hand.
    It sounds strange I know 🙂 but it makes me run a LOT longer than I would without it.

  17. I run on a treadmill only. Where I live, there are no sidewalks, traffic is heavy and drivers are reckless, it’s usually sweltering with 90%+ humidity, and it frankly isn’t safe for a woman to go out running alone. Sadly, I must run solely on treadmills if I wish to prioritize my safety.
    My way to pass time on treadmill is listen to trance music and let my mind go elsewhere.

  18. I usually listen to music when I am easy running, but when I am hammering it I pause it so that I can be in touch with my physical part. Good info by most of you and at least I know what I have tried is working and will try the new things suggested. Also, the treadmill is easier on the joints which is another benefit.

  19. I just got a ProForm 1450 which was on sale for $999 which is good considering it was $1999. I’ve read or heard that you should set the incline at 1.5-2 % which is maybe why I can’t match my outdoor speed on the treadmill. Everyone I speak to says I can go way faster on a treadmill even when they have the 1-2% incline. I haven’t found that…..????

  20. I have a question about pacing. I much prefer running outside, but due to my wife’s recent knee surgery I currently have to run while she’s in rehab, at a time when it’s dangerously hot outside here in Georgia, thus the treadmill is my safer option. When I set my pace on the treadmill, I try to get my leg turnover at the same rate as when I’m outdoors. However, the display shows a pace much, much slower (20-minute miles, for instance) than what I actually run outside, which makes me wonder if I’m not adjusting properly to the moving belt on the treadmill. Is there a special art to running on a treadmill that I’m not picking up?

    • I found that my ProForm treadmill made me seem faster than on outdoor runs (outdoors I felt like a snail!). Now using a NordickTrack I am actually slower on the treadmill than outdoors. I guess you can know what the treadmill time and speed means by comparing real outdoor and treadmill runs. Outdoor running feels a bit more difficult subjectively still – I guess I am making somewhat larger steps outside (something mentioned in the article).

  21. So I’ve read some of these questions and answers but I still wonder if the treadmill is for me. I’m a high school student and this is my first year of cross country. The official season hasn’t started yet, but I do this summer program and the coaches want me to run long distance with the varsity kids. I can run the amount at roughly a 10 minute mile pace, but I can’t keep up with them. Will running on the treadmill teach me to run faster and give me better endurance? The season starts in August and I want to keep up with them and be on varsity. But I’m not sure how. Any ideas?

  22. Regarding the 1% incline: I stopped upping the incline and just sped up the pace a little. What are your thoughts? I use a heart rate monitor inside and outside when I run and found the my heart rate is the same as is my perceived exertion, outside and inside on no incline. Thoughts?

  23. I am so glad that i found this post..I assumed that I was the only one who loved treadmill running more than an outside run (to be fair i have to admit that i have not tried it many times though, but whenever I have, I have experienced extreme tiredness).

    The main reason I love treadmill running is the controlled environment I get i.e. no distractions at all- just my body, my chosen music and me. I just feel I am in a different zone when I run on a treadmill and since I am not a regular runner as such, I am still able to run atleast 3-4 miles in 20 mins even after long breaks (of around 2-3 months or so). The two main facilitators for me while running are 1) good music and 2) a mirror infront where I can see myself running. Both these factors keep me going so while the first get me zoned out of my surroundings, whenever I start feeling tired the second factor inspires me to keep running- its like my reflection in the mirror pushes me to keep going and my mind relates this whole thing (tiredness, running with no end in sight, etc) to our journey of life where we all are running without any particular finishing line in sight. Sorry to get philosophical…but just wanted to share how I run and why I love running on a treadmill so much. However, I have one question, unlike running on treadmill I do not enjoy any other gym exercise as such and so wondered if just running on treadmill is enough to be fit or loose/maintain weight. I am moderately overweight (10 kgs more than my recommeded weight) and have been trying to loose the extra kilos from quite some time, but unable to do so (again that has also to do with the gaps in my physical activity). I read somewhere that doing the same exercise (in this case running) for more than 20 mins is counter-productive since our body shuts down or something that it goes into anaerobic respiration and so it is advised to keep changing equipments. is this true? and if its is then how come marathon runners are so lean?

  24. Here is my daily tread schedule for past few weeks

    Min Miles Calories MpH CpH
    30 3.00 347 6.00 11.57
    30 3.03 350 6.06 11.67
    40 4.13 477 6.20 11.93
    30 3.10 358 6.20 11.93
    30 3.00 347 6.00 11.57
    30 3.28 401 6.56 13.37
    30 3.01 349 6.02 11.63
    30 3.03 350 6.06 11.67

    60 6.37 733 6.37 12.22
    60 5.86 679 5.86 11.32

    Relative to outdoor running, tread mill benefits me with minimal impact on joints and shins

    To minimize boredom, cover the indicators with a towel and listen to rock & roll (Zepplin, Hendrix, Beatles, Neil Young, CCR or Stones or mix it up) to make the workout go well – tend to speed up the pace on fast guitar riffs

    per schedule above – always go for at least 30 minutes and find that inertia drops off after about 15 minutes (i.e., begin to just roll along in a peaceful groove with heightened energy to pick up my pace)

    tread is a great way to go if you are getting on in age.

  25. Wrong, you need to redo this study you left out too many variables. Not only is wind a factor but humidity, heat, and terrain are factors that make running outside much different than running on a treadmill. You cant makeup for all of that with 1% grade increase.

    most of the other studies including these variables

    • Those are the wrong variables to isolate since they are not dependent on a treadmill. You could easily run on a 50 degree day with no humidity outside. These variables are not dependent upon the treadmill so they should not be factored into the difference between the two.

  26. The body fatigues faster under higher levels of heat and humidity and rough or uneven terrain directly Affects the quality of your run and can throw off your stride.

  27. This article is super helpful. Thank you.
    I loooooove running on the treadmill and it does feel easier (even with the 1% incline) so hearing that they’re relatively the same makes me feel better, especially since I feel the pavement challenging on my aging joints… I guess the treadmill just feels easier because I love it 🙂 …I find it easier to get into my zone and just run and run and run…

  28. Its funny i cant run for 5minutes outside but on the treadmill i can do 5km. My trick is to set a threshhold, for example i find the first 5 minutes of running the hardest but after that it gets easier, then i just keep adding 5minutes untill i reach 40minutes.

  29. I have started gym again after 3-4 years & hav kept 1 day for cardio, I love to run 3-4kms outside the club in open.
    But when I sprint for 4th time there is a slight sudden pain in my right side of knee & than it’s gone after 6 hours, so plz if I can know that is this coz of hard road or something else.

  30. Coach Jeff, I am training to run my first marathon and due to our schedules I had to ditch my 14 mile training run outside and ran for 2 hours inside on our treadmill. On the treadmill in those two hours i got a little more than 9 miles in since I wasn’t able to keep up the pace, but outside, the it would have gotten the 14 in. Is it okay to run for 2 hours and get only 9 miles in for training or should i have kept going to reach the 14 miles even though I would have been on the treadmill for almost 3 hours?

  31. So glad I’m not the only one who can’t run as fast on my treadmill as I can outdoors. Every time I talk to people about it they give me a look like I’m insane. But, for example, two nights ago I did 8 miles at 8:00 pace outside, and last night I could barely hold on for 4 miles at 8:30 pace on my treadmill.

    Inaccurate pacing on the treadmill, perhaps? (I’m pretty confident in my GPS watch as I’ve worn it to the track and in a number of races and it’s always spot on.) Or maybe the treadmill’s incline is in fact higher than stated? Or because the platform is a bit mushier than the road — like running on the beach? It’s interesting to think about, but no big deal, and actually kind of a bonus when I leave the house and feel like I’ve made amazing progress!

    As for boredom: Loud, fast music and the ability to mentally dissociate combine quite nicely. No TV in my basement; I run staring at a concrete wall and really concentrate on my form. I pretend that I’m staring through the wall and envision jungle, desert, forests, and/or roads lined with beautiful women — depending on my mood 🙂

  32. Hi. You wrote that “bio-mechanical patterns did not change when test subjects ran on a treadmill versus when they ran outside.”
    But that is only true for the non_motorized isn`t it?
    While running on a usual treadmill we do not have true active hip extension which may undertrain the hamstring.

  33. It might sound crazy, but i am afraid of running on the treadmill – I am scared i will fall or i will not be able jump off it when necessary… But i would like to get rid of this fear – do you have any tips? I would like to train reguarly during winter too,..

    • Hi Jana, you do not sound crazy. Everyone has those fears the first time they use one…..or the first time in a long time! You will be fine, and if you think about it, when you run on a sidewalk, you are still within a small area, and you do run in a straight line for the most part. You will get used to it easier than you think. The best advice I can give you would be to walk on it first, and gradually pick up the speed as you become comfortable at each pace. Before you know it, you will have picked it up to your regular running pace. As for jumping off it, practice that too while you are walking; hold both edges, and lift your body weight up and place your feet back down onto the sides. Hopefully that helps!:) If we can do anything else, please let us know!

  34. Any runner who has been pounding the pavement in a country setting for years can tell you there is a TREMENDOUS difference between the constant up and down hill running experienced outdoors vs. a treadmill, even with changes in “elevation” on a treadmill. Was this study done comparing a treadmill vs.a metro area where roads are relatively flat?
    When running out on a country or suburban road that has good hills and curvy roads, the continual fluctuation of running up hill, then running down the next causes the muscles to continually adjust to balance and for powering up a hill, or stuttering steps a bit to go downhill. You do not get that “downhill” pump going.
    In addition, the footing continues to change out on the streets. The treadmill is a very “static” footing. Out on the streets, every time your foot lands it has to make millisecond adjustments to keep balance and ensure of the footing. The little slope of the side of the road, that little pothole to jump over or skirt around. Running downhill. Your muscles are continually being forced to adapt to every changing conditions.
    Weather: The typical indoor space for a treadmill has a pretty consistent temperature. In most outdoor running, the temperatures, atmospheric conditions (pressure, moisture etc) and other variations in my opinion seem to really force one to experience a very varied skin to air condition, breathing changes and more. Over a year (especially in the northeast where I just ran in 41 degree dry air) of variations, the overall effect has got to be significant with forcing again the body to adjust, adapt and keep powering forward.
    I used to do treadmill a lot. I also used to run outdoors a lot. I stopped ever doing treadmill 2 years ago. From my experience, I have MUCH MUCH better results over the long term from outdoor running than I ever got with a treadmill.

    • Hi Bill,

      You are right. There are many more variables involved with running outside compared to inside, and I think (almost) everyone would agree with you that treadmill running is easier than running outside due to those variables. This study was just trying to show that treadmill running can be used as an alternate for running outside, especially with the winter months coming where many runners are left no option but to run inside. Like you mentioned, the location of your outside run will definitely impact the comparison, and it would be impossible to make a generalization for every town. Thanks for your insight, outdoor running will always be preferable to treadmill running, but certain factors may limit an individuals ability to be able to run outside.

  35. Great article, as always. I’d never done any running on a treadmill before my most recent (current) return to running. But right now I’m doing all of my running on a treadmill. To my surprise, I actually like it. In terms of your question about boredom, for the most part, I don’t find it an issue. I enjoy staying tuned in to my body and will often close my eyes. Easier to do indoors than out, actually (eyes closed part). I also stay tuned into my emotions. I want to make sure I’m running on empowering emotions and working through any negative emotions that might come up. Some people might frame this more as self-talk, but for me it’s the emotions that are more important. Lastly I imagine how I want to feel when I’m actually running a race – strong, confident, etc.

    • That is wonderful Ellen! What an empowering comment itself. Your thoughts and approach to treadmill running will help others turn the perspective around about the boredom of the treadmill, and those mental tactics you are using will pay you off big time in your races. Keep up the good work, and thanks for the support!

  36. Hi coach Jeff,
    I have many questions but I am going to ask the most important one.. I am running the B 2 B challenge,(Boston& big sur) in April, six days apart. My question is how can I best prepare for it? I ran 5 marathons this year, and I am running surf city February 1st. I am trying to increase my weekly miles from ~25 to 55. Oh I forgot to mention I am almost 49 years young, so I don’t know if that is a good idea. What would be your best advise for me? Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my question and any advise you might have.

  37. Hii sir Jeff
    I have a question related to running on trade mill.
    Is running on trade mill effect on knees means on running trade ,is our kness become weak? I want to be a footballer so I am not wants to weak my kness.

  38. Sir one more question treadmill. Benefited for children 15 or above age…bcoz I m of 16 years….n someone have told me that on treadmill running will increase the space in my knees portion. Is it true?

  39. Hey! I have been a serious runner for probably the last 3 years. Running mostly longer distance races, half, full. I just bought a treadmill almost a month ago because of the winter weather, but I struggle so much running on it! I’ve only been trying to do my shorter distances on it, anything shorter than 8 miles. For instance, I plan to do a 6 mile run, but only can squeeze out maybe 2 miles if I’m lucky. I feel like I can’t breathe And I also get really hot. What’s going on?! I used to be able to run on a treadmill just fine. It’s so frustrating. I’ve even started watching tv to help pass the time, but it’s not really helping much. What should I do? Very much thinking about returning the treadmill if they will take it back. Let me know, thanks!

    • Hi Derek! Sorry to hear you are having a difficult time with the treadmill. Do you have a fan you can blow at yourself while you run. You may be surprised how much that air movement will cool you down. It may also help you to change up the elevation, speed, time for intervals to break up the monotony a little. It take a little getting used to, so you should find you adjust with time. Hope this helps, let me know if i am nowhere close to what you are talking about. We can show you other articles to help. We will have a infographic coming soon with workouts that you may find useful.

  40. Hi,I thought I was going mad!! Outside I can run 5 k in 26 mins but on my proform treadmill I managed it in nearly 40,I don’t understand why it feels so hard. I set the thing to 10k per hour but had to slow down to 8.

  41. I run on a treadmill during winter storms and icy conditions. Other than that, it’s outside all of the way, baby. The treadmill bores me to tears, and even though I readjust the incline to mix it up, it seems to take forever to run 8-10 miles.
    I normally run trails and mountains and am used to continually altering my gait and stride to correlate with conditions. Maybe that’s why when I run on the treadmill, my legs ache; I believe that this might be from using the same motion/muscles, over and over. Perhaps road/pavement runners can better adjust to treadmill running, since they’re used to a more consistent surface (??).
    Whatever the case, it is nice to have the choice. A treadmill run is better than no run. Still, I’d rather pass trees and mountains and water than stare at an instrument panel or the TV.
    P.S. I’m also a teeny bit slower on the treadmill, probably because I just can’t get my groove on, lol.

  42. I am a outside runner from 4 years. Now I think to buy a treadmill? Should I get a used treadmill or a new treadmill? Is it all right to run on a treadmill because as I am a outside runner.

  43. treadmill? no way…unless its really really bad weather outside. fresh air, my dog and long sandy roads- that’s what I call great run…I smell fresh air instead someones sweat (mine don’t bother me:)

    • Sounds like a great run to me Caroline! I would also chose outside over almost any situation, but for some it is not an option, and they do not mind as much. We just wanted to give the facts. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, keep on enjoying your running!

  44. Still a great article for being done when it was. For the people having trouble keeping pace on the treadmill but have no issues running the pace outside there’s a simple answer. The treadmill forces you to stay at that chosen pace. But when running outside you are constantly increasing and decreasing your pace for random reasons (hills, ground, heat) so outside your technically not holding the average pace the entire run. WHere as the treadmill forces you to hold that pace unless you physically change it.

    • Hi Darin, thanks for the comment. That is a great point, and one that can be difficult to understand, but you are right on. Thanks for sharing, and I am sure that will be helpful to some of the other readers.

  45. Have run for the first time outside today. My calves really were trying to cramp afterward.
    Ran 2.9 outside . Have been running 3 miles inside for 3 months.

  46. Hello, I have a question I hope someone can answer!
    I’m a 6 foot male, 192lbs, but starting last summer I started losing weight- I had been over 260, and I started my weight loss back in July. I’ve been aiming for 10lb a month, and I did this mostly through diet and periodic fasting (12 to 16 hours a day), but I do have very physical job and have been walking about 7m per day. I’m not walking as much now so I started running on the treadmill today. When I was in college I’d run 5-10 miles a day, every day after work, but kids and work got in the way, so I stopped and got fat. I tried running outside last fall but only did it a couple times, I was still awfully fat and ended up winded far too soon.

    I started back on my parents treadmill today and ran at 4.5mph for 22 minutes without pausing, never getting winded and actually barely sweating when I finished.

    Now that’s not a very fast pace, but I assumed that at this stage it was more important that I run as long as I can, not as fast. I could have easily gone 30 minutes, but I didn’t want to push it too much and besides, I had to quick shower and get to work.

    How fast should I be setting the treadmill to to build up endurance and help lose some more weight? Is 4.5mph a decent pace for someone just getting back into it? I want to get back to where I could run for two hours and enjoy it the whole time, I always loved jogging around campus. I don’t plan on racing or anything, I just want to be doing a meaningful pace and still enjoy myself.


  47. I used to be a serious runner half a life time ago. Now that I’m starting up again I decided to try a treadmill. I got the Weslo for $300 (Amazon) and I love it. Started slow at 24 minutes for 2 miles and I’m up to 10 miles at 87 minutes after 12 weeks. I do tempo runs as well at a faster pace. Not bored at all. Big silent fan, 39 inch TV, and Netflix/Chromecast (binge watching while excercising!) in my garage. I control temperature easy enough but it is usually 68-70 degrees. When I finish I’m tired but I have no soreness or problems with my (older) legs. I take my dog for a walk in the morning and again in the evening before my treadmill run.

    • Hi Marc, thanks for reaching out. Thats awesome that you have found something that works for you, and you enjoy using it. Sounds like you have the perfect running setup! Thanks for sharing, we may all be coming over to your house in the winter to run in your garage 😉

  48. I have two young children at home so I had to start with what I could use… I got a treadmill used that, and then when I had time I’d go for a scoot outside. I’ll tell you, I hated running until I went outdoors and tried it… that is so much fun in comparison. There’s a freedom that you could never experience while on the treadmill… however, when I found that feeling…bringing it on the treadmill wasn’t as hard. It’s all about passion.
    Some things I do when I’m bored on the treadmill is put on a sitcom to help me laugh through the whole thing…it keeps my mind off the time, and it’s entertaining.

    • Hi Monique, thanks for sharing your experience, and it is good to see that you tried both types. Great idea with the sitcom, having a tv show you want to watch makes a big difference. A lot of people are also big fans of podcasts like Serial. Keep up the good work!

  49. I do a lot of my training on a treadmill. Have done a lot of marathons (7) and countless half marathons (20+). Some half marathons have been done with no training at all and completed around the 1hr 45min mark and have done 3 halves done in under 100 mins (with training). Fastest marathon was 3:23:18 (2 years ago). Last years marathon was done in a disappointing 3:28:??

    My job involves driving around all day and delivering home shopping for a supermarket and also have family life to deal with. Here in glasgow the weather is too cold to train over the winter period outside so have to train in the gym. I try to fit in a few runs outside to get my legs used to running on the pavement. I find that i can run faster on a treadmill and outside is slower but when i run the actual race i find that i can replicate what i did on the treadmill. The only problem i have is sore shins. It is not shin splints and found that running stairs caused my shins to be more sore and as a result i take painkillers before my run and sometimes wear tubigrips to aid with numbing the pain.

    Am running around 7.30min pace outside and can do <7min pace on a treadmill. With my training runs i tend to run with 0% incline but as of today am now running with 0.5% and then the final big week of training (the week after next) am going to 1% then i have my 2-week taper before the big event.

    Any ideas on what is causing my shins to be sore? Never happened till last year. Also should i do more runs outside (when i can) and try to adjust my pace to run at 7min miles? Only problem with being outside there are no mile markers so have no idea of where i am in my run. I do use mapmyrun but it sits in my pocket just to record my route and time.

    On another note i have always used treadmills for most of my races and have never had any problems till recently. Only thing different is i am training faster and harder. Am hoping for a time of 3:15 but hoping to beat 3:12:30 which is my dad's best time.

    I know some of this is a bit hap hazard and doesnt follow much of an order, am a bit tired but any replies will be appreciated.

  50. Treadmills cost money. Walking out the door doesn’t (hopefully). Unfortunately, even though I have done 99% outdoors running and 1% treadmill running, I prefer treadmill running a lot more. I just can’t afford to.

  51. This was a good article. I don’t mind running on a treadmill when I have to, but I much prefer running outside if I can.

    I am training outside now even though the high temps are in the mid to upper 90’s and the heat index is regularly over 100. I could be wrong, but I fail to see how training on a treadmill in an air conditioned room is going to get me ready to run races when the temperature is 80 degrees and the humidity is at 100%, which it regularly is in the mornings in the Memphis, TN area.

  52. Nope, Treadmills aren’t the same. They do not simulate downhills either. Momentum differences, lack of downhills, and lack of pacing are all huge negatives for treadmills.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Tom. We have investigated the differences in this post, hopefully you appreciate the discussion in the comments here where others are sharing their perspectives.

  53. Am I the only one in the world who thinks treadmills are not the same because it simply does not give you the resistance while running.
    Why are people talking about windrag. ofcourse the “Science” is industry sponsored. Its a strawman argument. Windrag is negligible.
    The most imported factor is that you have to using all your muscles to propel yourself forward which does not happen in a treadmill you just place your foot and the belt takes it back.
    So basically all your doing is lifting your foot and placing it in the front everytime it goes back.
    I don’t even know why people are talking about downhill and other pacings.
    Just running on a straight ground cannot be compared to a treadmill as there is not resistance at all on the treadmill.
    All it does is just increase the impact as you tend to do flatfoot running which is bad.
    You can run on you front soles as you don’t need to propel yourself forward.
    The only thing running on a treadmill can do is give you a cardio workout. But still it will be less than what real running could do.
    I don’t thin treadmill can ever be used by real runners it would only spoil their form.
    But those who want to lose weight and cannot run outside can use the treadmill to work out a sweat a warm up. That is all

    • Hi Rawraj, as you can see, there has been quite a lot of discussion about this topic, and we thank you for your perspective on this. We pride ourselves on being the unbias, honest source, and all we have done is stated the findings of what we found. We did mention some of the factors you talked about, so we are considering those. We are leaving it up to the individual runners to chose whether they run outside or on a treadmill, but sometimes in the winter months, the treadmill is the only option (especially if you are talking about form changes- runners cannot run their true form if trying not to fall on ice!). Thank you for weighing in!

  54. Personally, I strongly prefer running on the treadmill to running outside. I live in GA wherein much of the year is hot, humid, and rainy. Additionally, my geriatric 45 year-old body is increasingly sensitive to barometric pressure changes (ankles & knees). That said, I find that the boredom issue can be solved by placing my iPad on the treadmill and watching NetFlix…or even better, I find motivation watching YouTube videos of folks much older than I as they compete in various IronMan events – makes it harder for me to whine about my own aches and pains. 🙂

    • Hi TG, thanks for your input. If you find that it is working for you, then by all means keep it up! Especially if you can use those motivational tools that you cannot outside. GA summers can be tough, so it is not surprising that you prefer to stay inside! Thank you for sharing, and keep up the good work, you are still out there doing it!

  55. Running outside is much harder for me than a treadmill. I usually run 3 to 5 miles outside. On a treadmill I could probably go 10 . Running outside is also alot harder on the knees and joints.

  56. I’m 51 and have been walking on my treadmill at home for over a decade without issues. I live in the Gulf where we have extreme weather conditions. My pastime when walking is to Google. In fact this mrssage is being typed walking.

  57. Hi Frank you can look up Marks daily Apple and on his website he lists how you can get injured on treadmills just go to search and type in treadmill.

  58. Hi,

    I was wondering if you can solve this problem. most of my life i was very skinny and i ran a few times a week. then i got extremely heavy and on top of that did heavy squat excersizes. something happened to my knew where i could not walk for long distances. Once i lost 125 lbs i was fine. but i never ran again.

    I started running on a tread mill for 10 mins, then 20 then 1 hour. luckily i had no problems. But yesterday i decided to try running on pavement and my knees started hurting after 10 minutes. on the sides right at those 2 dimples under the knee.

    i was not wearing running shoes…just regular street shoes. do you think that is the main reason. i also never stretched either. but i found it strange that i can run no problem on the treadmill. please let me know what you think.

    thanks buddy!

    • Hi Brandon, it would be a good idea for you to get running shoes. That will make a huge difference to how much you can run. The pavement is definitely harder on your body. Hope this helps!

  59. I find the comments on here interesting!

    I’ve been running since 2000 – first started ONLY on the treadmill – up to 10 miles a day every week. Only in 2009/2010, did I start running outside, and within the first week of doing split runs (part of run on treadmill, part of run outside) did I see my body completely changing faster than any of my prior years on my treadmill. My arm muscles became more defined. My legs, the same. I remember after the first week or two of doing splits inside/outside – my husband asked me if I had been lifting because my arms were ripped. That’s how much of a difference my body was changing, just from running outside. (and at that time, that was pavement, no trails.)

    For me, I’ve found the natural incline/decline of the road (or gravel) and wind resistance with having to propel yourself – trims my body more than any of my years on my treadmill (I have a gym-grade Precor). I’ve gotten to the point that if I run any miles outside, for my body results, it’s like running double that. So If I ran 6 miles outside, my body feels like I’ve ran 12. (I like gravel/trails.) When I run just 6 on the treadmill, I feel like that’s the results I get. 6 miles.

    I’ve been running for 15 years now.

  60. I think that what you posted was very logical. However,
    what about this? what if you added a little information? I am
    not saying your content isn’t good, but what if you added a post title that makes people want more?
    I mean Treadmill vs. Running Outside: Which is Best for Runners?
    – Runners Connect is kinda boring. You might peek
    at Yahoo’s front page and see how they create article headlines to grab people to open the links.
    You might add a video or a related pic or two to
    get readers interested about what you’ve written.
    Just my opinion, it might make your posts a little bit more interesting.

  61. Thanks for good article !
    I find the control you have on a treadmill one of its better features. Regulating speed is easy on a TM, not so much outside, especially for a new runner unless you use a GPS watch. If you run an out and back route outside, or even a loop, once you are out there you are committed for that distance back. On a TM you can stop whenever you want and will be right where you started.
    Treadmill can be anytime, never gets dark, unlikely to be mugged etc, can be ok with seasonal allergies.
    And of topic: does anyone have those vibram 5 finger shoes ?, I was wondering if its a good investment. is it worth it? can you notice a difference? does it increase your workout intensity?

    • I used to run outside and I really enjoyed it and then I stopped it altogether for about ten years. At 51 I have been running solely on a treadmill for about a year now and I like it about the same. I like that it kind of forces me to stay at a certain pace and keeps track of calories burned etc…and has a place for my water 🙂 That being said there are wonderful places to run outside such as Dodge Park MI which has a exercise station to do sit ups, push up,pull ups etc.. to incorporate in your run as well. I have seen these stations at other parks also and think they make the run exciting .

  62. P.S., I am glad I found this site and the people here shared some great information about this issue. Thanks everyone 🙂

  63. Great thread, and great info. As a former 2:24 marathoner in Alaska, I followed the Jack Daniels tables for treadmill grade conversion and simulating faster pace by adding grade.

    contrary to adding 1% to simulate flat running, i kept it at zero (mainly because my HR at 0% is the same as running flat outside). Only three times did I run faster than 6:00pace (10mph) on a treadmill at the university, but by working in tempos and marathon pace runs done at a grades between 3%-6%, I was able to run 5:35 pace at Boston after a winter of training nearly exclusively on that treadmill.

    One byproduct of incline training though, seems to be a reduction in hip flexor extension.

    Subsequently, I purchased a treadmill with a top speed of 16mph, so was able to minimize the incline if i chose. As a result, most of my hard runs were then done at 0% because I felt like the speed was more specific. In those years that I was running fast, and doing 100% of my hard workouts during winter on the treadmill, I always dreaded the first tempo runs on the track during the spring. I was ALWAYS 100% surprised at how much easier they were outside, even after training at 0%, than they were inside on the treadmill.

    My 2cents.

    Happy training!

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