Let’s all just be frank with one another, runner to runner. Does anyone REALLY like running on a treadmill? Sure, the elements sometimes move us to running indoors or possibly time doesn’t allow us to travel to a trailhead but I’m not sure I’ve ever worked on a runner that was vocal about loving the treadmill over road or trail. Plus, there are many benefits of outdoor running.
At Modern Movement Clinic, we do a lot of running assessment and analysis where we like to put someone on the treadmill mainly because we like the controlled environment to analyze someone’s running biomechanics and manipulate speed and slope for either modifying symptoms or seeing if this alters their gait. Nevertheless, we realize the treadmill has major “womp womp” energy coming from it.
In this post, we’re going to explore some of the benefits of outdoor running and what differences we might run into with running on a treadmill versus a run outdoors.
The Science Behind Treadmill Vs. Running Outside
Treadmill and running out in the fresh air have different benefits both physically and mentally. Regarding the physical aspects, treadmills tend to have a higher load on the Achilles tendon in peak force, loading rate, and cumulative force per distance of continuous running. This research from the university was conducted by Willy and colleagues.1 Because of this, we want to possibly wait to hop on the treadmill or do analysis with a runner who is dealing with achilles irritation to tolerate running outside first. At the knee, they noticed no difference between running indoors (on a treadmill) and outside regarding load.
Some other aspects we notice between treadmills and running outside are that ground reaction forces (think forces that come back into your body as you step) are indiscernible.2 This is widely thought that running outside, especially on pavement, is “bad for your joints” compared to the treadmill.
Running outside is associated with increased stride time, length and decreased stance phase (think how long the foot is on the ground) and there tends to be less vertical displacement of the center of gravity (think how high you’re coming off the ground).3,4,5
As one can see, you can get heavy into the science about the differences between the two environments. Let’s now explore a little more of some of the benefit you get strictly from running outside.
Benefits of Running Outdoors
It’s a rarity that your running coach will program your runs to be on the treadmill, especially on the long run (I’ve done 2 hours before and let me say…it was no fun). Before we get into the benefits of strictly outdoors, just know that running is a great form of exercise and provides great health benefits to your heart health and mental health. Regardless of where you’re running, you’re gaining benefits.
That being said, we found a study by the University of Exeter stated, “Compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion and anger and depression, and increased energy”. They also found that it manifested greater enjoyment and satisfaction as well. Another study at the University of Michigan found that being in nature improves your memory and attention span as well.
Aside from our mental health, there are some additional benefits of outdoor running. Because we don’t have control of the terrain, running outside gives a runner a varied load that would better benefit the body to adapt to the stresses with running. Experiencing this personally, what is a better way to explore a city or trails around you than to go for a run? You’ll be burning more calories while also getting familiar with a new place over the long term. Lastly, what more do you need for running outdoors other than a pair of running shoes and some athletic wear that accommodates to the climate and weather? Therefore, as the years pass, running continues to pick up more and more athletes. It’s a much cheaper sport than others that require a lot of equipment. No gym membership needed.
We hope this gives a bit more clarity that although either space is fine for running, that you have plenty of motivation now to lace up your running shoes and grab some fresh air.
- Willy RW, Halsey L, Hayek A, Johnson H, Willson JD. Patellofemoral Joint and Achilles Tendon Loads During Overground and Treadmill Running. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016 Aug;46(8):664-72.
- Kram R, Griffin TM, Donelan JM, Chang YH. Force treadmill for measuring vertical and horizontal ground reaction forces. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1998 Aug;85(2):764-9.
- Schache AG, Blanch PD, Rath DA, Wrigley TV, Starr R, Bennell KL. A comparison of overground and treadmill running for measuring the three-dimensional kinematics of the lumbopelvic-hip complex. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2001 Oct;16(8):667-80.
- Nelson RC, Dillman CJ, Lagasse P, Bickett P. Biomechanics of overground versus treadmill running. Med Sci Sports. 1972 Winter;4(4):233-40.
- Dal Monte A, Fucci S, Manoni A. The treadmill as a training and simulator instrument in middle- and long-distance running. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1974 Jun;14(2):67-72.