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Running Tips

The benefits of running on a treadmill vs. outside

woman lacing up her shoes

My first flirtation with running was on the treadmill in my apartment building's excessively air-conditioned gym. But since then, I've come to love outdoor running, too. Treadmill and outdoor running each have their own unique advantages, and both can be great for you physically and mentally. It's not a matter of only running on a treadmill vs. outside, but which works best for you.

When I first started running, I lived in a Chicago high-rise overlooking Lake Michigan. Live and on-demand fitness classes weren't a thing yet, but I'd sometimes watch TV — it was a pretty sweet setup.

Using a treadmill made me a better runner. I got to the point where I was confident enough to realize running outdoors wouldn't leave me lost, overly tired, and in need of a taxi. Sure, the view was amazing from the treadmill, but the wind on my back (and even in my face) gave me energy. Once winter weather advisories started popping up though, I migrated back to the treadmill.

That's the thing about running on a treadmill vs. outside — they both rock. It doesn't matter if you're talking about crushing your workout goals, keeping your risk of injury low, boosting your mood, or just learning to run — however you prefer to exercise is the right way to do it.

Running on a treadmill — it's all about you

The first treadmill was made to replicate OG outdoor runs. But modern treadmills can do so much more, making running even more convenient and fun.

Here are some of the benefits of running on a treadmill:

  • Rain or shine, the treadmill runs. One of the biggest benefits of treadmill workouts is that they aren't weather-dependent. The treadmill can keep you moving even if mother nature isn't playing nice.
  • You can program the treadmill to fit your needs. What incline or decline would you like today? Speed? Interval pattern? On a treadmill, you call the shots and set everything to match your goals, abilities, and style. Plus, if you need to switch things up (or end your workout), you just have to touch a button.
  • Treadmills are gentler on your joints. If you have cranky joints or knee pain with high-impact exercise, treadmills typically provide a softer running surface. This means less impact on your bones and joints. If you're in the market for a treadmill, look for models that advertise shock-resistant belts.
  • Many treadmills offer interactive workouts. Today's treadmills, whether you're in a commercial gym or outfitting your home gym, offer many ways to stay engaged, motivated, and have more fun with your runs. Check out live and on-demand classes or virtually explore running paths all around the world.
Woman running on a treadmill

Running in the great outdoors — feel the wind at your back

While treadmills are great for customizing your workouts to fit your body and needs, outdoor trails force you to adapt to nature.

Check out these benefits of running outside:

  • It's ready at a moment's notice. Lace up, warm up, and hit the road (or trail). The outdoors, barring severe weather, is always ready for you and doesn't require a treadmill purchase or gym membership.
  • You score mood-boosting outdoor time. For some, exercising in the presence of nature comes with greater feelings of mental and physical well-being compared to breaking a sweat indoors. Nothing like some Vitamin D and endorphins to boost your mood.
  • It preps you for race day. If you're training for a road race, running on pavement (at least some of the time) can help prep your bones and joints for race day. If you're venturing a trail run, running on grass, dirt, rocks, and through all sorts of curly-cue paths can help strengthen your joints so you don't twist anything along the way.
  • It spurs greater muscle activation. When you run outside, you're responsible for moving yourself forward. Although some treadmills are motorless, most have a motor-powered running belt — meaning the treadmill does some of the moving for you. Plus, when running outside, varied terrain and wind resistance can provide your muscles with additional (and beneficial) challenges.
man running outside

Why choose one when you can enjoy both?

As with most either-or scenarios, there's a third option: do both! When switching things up, remember each works your body in a slightly different way. Don't pressure yourself to make your times and distances match up. Start slow and listen to your body, especially when transitioning from indoor to outdoor running.

When it comes to running on a treadmill versus running outside, you don't have to choose. You can reap the rewards of both, or stick with the one that's best for you.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

Written By
K. Aleisha Fetters

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Headshot of Aleisha Fetters

I'm a quirky (aka nerdy) strength coach with a passion for science and sweat. I love to help people meet their body goals, but it's their mental and emotional gains that make me do a happy dance. My flirtation with running includes two half marathons and, someday, I will run 26.2.