Treadmill Vs. Running Outside: The Pros And Cons Based On Your Lifestyle

Just as with many other cardio exercises, running offers a long list of benefits for the body and mind. It's also one of the most convenient physical activities you can perform since you can do it almost anywhere. And with the treadmill option, all you need is space for the equipment to rack up some miles.

You'll find treadmills in gyms, boutique fitness studios, schools, and other exercise centers because they present benefits that outdoor running doesn't. On the other hand, outdoor running offers some perks that treadmill running lacks, but both also come with a few disadvantages.

Factors, including temperature and climate, cost, mental health, safety, incline, and fixed speed, all play a role in whether someone decides to run outdoors or run indoors on a treadmill. Determining which one is best for you ultimately depends on your lifestyle, goals, or both.

Pros of running outdoors

Running outdoors provides elements of freedom and convenience that treadmill running doesn't. If you're lucky enough to live in a big neighborhood with sidewalks or near a walking trail, all you need to do is lace up and walk out your door. Money and electricity are not required, and you don't have to join a gym or deal with a heavy, expensive piece of equipment.

Another advantage to outdoor running involves the environment and scenery. If you're running on a sunny day near trees or a body of water, the experience can benefit your mental health, according to the American Psychology Association. Being in an open environment without a roof or walls and having the option to enjoy the beautiful scenery while you run is an obvious benefit to outdoor running, especially if you have a view of mountains or waterfalls.

Muscle activation is a third pro of outdoor running. Unless you're running on a completely flat outdoor track, it's likely that you'll encounter some small dips, bumps, and other small obstacles along your route. These obstacles will force you to adjust how your feet hit the ground and how you run in general, which engages more muscles than treadmill running, explains Healthline.

Cons of outdoor running

Outdoor running, while liberating and mentally beneficial, can present some disadvantages, compared to treadmill running — or treadmill strutting. For example, the temperature and climate may prevent you from running comfortably or safely outdoors. It may be too hot or too cold (unless you layer up), or inclement weather in the form of a blizzard or rain storm may completely derail your running plans. Even if you attempt to run while it's raining, you'll increase your chances of slipping and injuring yourself. 

Limited daylight hours during the winter months is another potential hurdle involved with outdoor running. Running at night, whether it's in the early morning or evening hours, can be dangerous, so you'll either want to avoid it entirely or take some extra precautionary measures. Wearing light-colored, reflective clothing and running in well-lit areas can reduce the safety risks, but it may still be risky if you're running alone.

A third con to outdoor running is the increased risk of injury, compared to treadmill running. Although having varying terrain typically results in increased muscle activation, it can also result in injury if you're not careful. You might check your watch for a second and overlook the uneven ground beneath you and sprain your ankle. Treadmill running can be dangerous, too, but at least you know the ground (aka belt) won't change.

Pros of running on a treadmill

Ironically, the treadmill was invented as a torture device in the 1800s, but today, it's used as a form of exercise, with many benefits. One of them involves the impact it has on joints. Treadmill runners typically have a shorter stride length, compared to outdoor runners, which can reduce the impact on knees, hips, and ankles, according to PhysioMotion. Similarly, many treadmills feature shock-absorbing qualities, which offer the same benefits.

Another pro of treadmill running involves the incline option. While outdoor running can offer this same option, you may have to travel a few miles to access the nearest hill. With a treadmill, you can instantly create your own hill with the touch of a button without going anywhere. Most treadmills offer a 15% maximum incline with the option to adjust it in 0.5% increments. And, by the way, running on an incline provides a range of benefits, especially for your booty!

The fixed speed feature is another advantage to running on a treadmill. When you run outdoors, you don't know your exact speed in real-time, unless you're wearing some type of device to measure it. A treadmill, however, does offer this benefit, which can be helpful for running marathons. It's natural for your speed to decline during outdoor running sometimes without your knowledge, but on a treadmill, you can maintain a certain speed for your entire run.

Cons of running on a treadmill

The benefits of a treadmill are undeniable, but running on a treadmill isn't always a better option, compared to outdoor running. Two of the disadvantages are cost and space. A new treadmill will set you back anywhere from $200 to $3,000, depending on the model you purchase.

In addition to cost, you'll obviously need a place in your home to keep your treadmill, which can be problematic for apartments and other small residences. If having a treadmill at home isn't an option, you'll be limited to using the treadmill at your local fitness center, which may require a paid membership.

Another downside to running on a treadmill is that it can become monotonous, especially with long runs. Sure, you can play some music or watch TV during your run, but being confined to a small place while exercising could still be mentally boring since the scenery doesn't change.

If you love the outdoors, get bored easily, and don't want to deal with the hassle of a treadmill, running outdoors may be the better choice for you. However, if you're unable to run outside for whatever reason, you prefer to run in a controlled environment, or you want to do high-incline training, treadmill running may be the best option for you.