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Running On The Treadmill Versus Running Outside – Which Is For You?

If you’re a runner at heart, one question that may go through your mind from time to time is the age old debate of running on the treadmill vs. running outside. Which is the better option? Is there a better option? Or is it simply personal preference?

There is no doubt that personal preference comes into play. If you love running outside and will never skip and outdoor run but always talk yourself out of doing a treadmill session, without a doubt you need to be running outside. Just doing the run is the most important thing.

But if you could really go either way, then there are other factors you’ll want to think about to help guide your decision over what to do.

Running out side feels free – you get to experience the fresh air on  your face and actually see yourself moving over a distance while when you run on the treadmill, you’re essentially in one spot, going nowhere. But, you don’t to deal with weather limitations, so that’s one big benefit that you can’t overlook.

Let’s take a closer look at a comparison between the question of running on the treadmill versus running outside so that you can get a better idea of which is best for you.

Running On The Treadmill


  • Controllable climate
  • Can run any time
  • Smooth, flat surface
  • Control over incline
  • Control over speed
  • Time visibility
  • Programmable
  • Less risk of injury due to uneven terrain
  • Easy to progress program
  • Greater shock absorption


  • Some may find it boring and monotonous
  • Doesn’t exactly stimulate ‘real life’ because the belt is under you
  • Treadmills can break down

Running Outside


  • The great outdoors will never break down, causing you to miss a run
  • Get to experience scenery
  • May feel more accomplished after doing your run
  • More natural in feel since you are actually running
  • Change in terrain may naturally produce progression depending on the routes you choose


  • Less controllable – you can’t adjust your speed or incline precisely to ensure progression is made
  • Greater risk of injury if you land on a divot in the road
  • Have to watch for traffic and other pedestrians
  • May not feel safe running late at night or early in the morning
  • Weather is uncontrollable
  • May put you at a greater risk of joint pain

A Deeper Look

Looking at these closer, we see there are some very clean benefits as well as drawbacks to each. Let’s take a look.

The Location Limitations

The location limitation provides a few drawbacks, but depending on how you look at it, can also be a pro as well. If you love the outdoors, you’ll see the location as a benefit. But, running outside does present some pretty big drawbacks.

First, if it’s pouring rain or a heavy snowfall, you likely aren’t going to be doing much running. Second, if it’s pitch black outside and 11 pm at night, you may not feel comfortable doing a run outside.

But, if you have a treadmill sitting in your house that’s dry and secure, you can easily hop on and go for a run if this is the only time you’re able to that day. You aren’t going to be at all limited by the location and environment. Think about your year-round climate before making your decision. If you have a few months of warmer, summer weather and that’s it, don’t be unrealistic in your decision to run outside.

Injury Risk

Another thing to consider is your injury risk. One nice thing about treadmills is that there is cushioning built into the belt, so you won’t be as likely to experience knee, back, or ankle pain while running due to impact. It takes some of the high impact nature of running away from you.

This said, the treadmill presents its own potential injury risks. What if you don’t step completely on the belt, stepping half on and half off? This could very easily result in a sprained or even broken ankle depending on how you land on it.

Likewise, what if you fall off the treadmill altogether? While you may laugh at the thought of this thinking it’s only something that happens in the movies, it’s not. There is always that possibility. ]

Contrast this to outside, where the terrain is far more uneven, especially if you aren’t running on a side walk and there’s the possibility of rolling an ankle if the ground beneath you isn’t completely flat.

Even on the sidewalk, you could accidentally step on a rock, which could have you putting a great deal of stress down on that ankle joint when it’s in an unnatural position.

Running, by nature, is a higher impact activity so you’ll always be at risk for joint pain and shin splints, but choosing the treadmill may minimize the risk provided you feel very secure running on the treadmill.


Progression is another consideration. The treadmill wins out here for sure. With the treadmill, you have direct control over the speed and incline and can change them at a whim while you watch the seconds tick away.

Outside, you have zero control over incline, however you can control your speed. But, you don’t now the precise speed you are running at. You only know faster or slower in general.

Likewise, while you can wear a stop watch, you have to either set it to beep if doing intervals (which means you can’t listen to music as you run), or be constantly checking it to see how much time has passed.

It’s simply easier to ensure progression from session to session when using the treadmill.  Outside of course you can just focus on running a longer distance and that’s fine, but that assumes that you are just training for distance, not necessarily speed.


So there you have the facts to know about running on the treadmill vs. running outside.  Each and everyone will have their preference. The good news is that you can purchase a treadmill to have in your home for those times when you want to ensure you are making progress or when the weather isn’t ideal and still go outside as you choose. Running outside is free so there is no limitation to doing so apart from your own desire to actually get out there and get going. Spend some time figuring this out however so that you can get a clear idea of which set-up is best for you and which will help you reach your own goals as desired.

Photo credit: Ljupco Smokovski/Shutterstock; ostill/Shutterstock; lzf/Shutterstock; Pressmaster/Shutterstock

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