Training Does road running really trump the treadmill?

Does road running really trump the treadmill?


Most runners have a strong opinion about whether running outdoors or on a treadmill is better. The treadmill typically isn’t given much respect, it’s thought of as a dirty word for a great deal of runners and isn’t, stereotypically, used by “real” runners. However, the treadmill certainly has its time and place.

By Pamela Mazzuca Prebeg BSc Kin, Athletic Therapist

There is no disputing the fact that running outdoors on the road is more challenging, and easier on the wallet, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to run.

Running outdoors is more natural and the fresh air is incredible. Aside from giving your body a chance to produce vitamin D, it also gives you greater feelings of revitalization, energy and enjoyment while decreasing tension, confusion, anger, and depression, more so when compared to running on a treadmill indoors.

The great outdoors also provide uneven and unpredictable surfaces, which could pose a risk of injury, but it also helps strengthen ligaments, activates more muscles and improves your sense of balance. While running on a treadmill decreases your risk of joint damage (treadmill belts tend to have more “give” than outdoor surfaces) or traumatic injury (i.e. rolling your ankle on a divot) it does increase your risk of overuse injury, especially if you do not alter your speed or incline, because your foot hits the belt the exact same way with every single stride.

However, the predictability of a treadmill can also be a benefit. There is never any wind, rain, ice, snow or visibility issues, unless you turn the treadmill’s fan up too high. And you never have to contend with sidewalk congestion or traffic. It’s also a great way to do speed work and interval training because it is actually easier to run faster on a treadmill because the belt helps propel your forward. But on the flip side, you have less hamstring activation on a treadmill compared to running on the road and the intensity (and caloric output) of your run will be lower unless you increase the speed and/or incline.

So what’s better? Well running outdoors certainly helps prepare you both physically and mentally for the elements on race day but the treadmill is definitely convenient and effective if you maintain an incline gradient of 1% for speed and interval training. The best choice is the one that will get you, and keep you, running on a regular basis.