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Running in the open versus on the treadmill: What’s a better workout?

Published on:23 January 2021, 15:26pm IST
Should you run outdoors or on a treadmill? Weigh the pros and cons, before you start your workout.
Grace Bains
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Learn about the benefits and disadvantages of running outdoors, and on a treadmill for an efficient workout. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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There is no denying that running has many health benefits. Running regularly helps to build strong bones, as it is a body weight exercise. Moreover, it also strengthens muscles, improves cardiovascular fitness, and helps to maintain a healthy weight.

The debate over whether it is better to run on a treadmill or outside has been going on, since time immemorial. There are several benefits and downsides to both types of running that you must consider. While some runners cannot bear the monotony of the treadmill, others are not able to pick up pace without manual controls in front of them. Therefore, it comes down to individual preference, supplemented by an informed decision, once the advantages and disadvantages of both types of running are factored in. 

The difference between running outdoors and on a treadmill

When you run outside, you expend more energy than you would on a treadmill, as your muscles get more activated outside due to lack of linear running patterns. Moreover, when running on a stiff surface like concrete, there is a heightened generation of ground reaction forces, which reinforces your bones more than a treadmill. Whereas the very design of treadmills ensures absorption of ground reaction forces, saving your joints from the impact associated with running.

running
A little activity will go a long way. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Besides the covid-19 related restrictions to stay indoors, there are also weather and temperature related constraints that tilt the preference towards treadmills.
For instance, running in hot weather attracts the risk of dehydration or heat exhaustion. Additionally, treadmills help with controlling and tracking the pace and keeping it consistent.

That said, running outdoors means more calories burnt 

Running outdoors helps burn more calories due wind resistance outside. Bone strength and mineral density also improves, as it’s a weight-bearing and high-impact exercise. Apart from physical benefits, outdoors provide a good amount of vitamin D and lets you inhale the fresh air, leading to a boost in energy and lower levels of stress and anger as compared to running on a treadmill.

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Running on treadmill. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Perceived exertion for both activities matter 

Hence, whether running on a treadmill or outside, it’s important to maintain the same effort level. Effort is estimated not just by your heart rate, but also on a phenomenon known as ‘perceived exertion’, meaning how hard you consider an activity to be, irrespective of how your body responds to that activity. 

Running indoors will be less hard than running outdoors on a rainy or cold day even if you burn more calories or have a faster heart rate. Whereas, on a sunny day, the act of running uphill may be perceived to be harder than running at the same incline and distance on a treadmill. Therefore, choose your place of workout as per your strength and endurance levels, workout preference and the weather conditions outside.

Grace Bains Grace Bains

Grace is someone who likes writing enough to make a living out of it. When she isn’t writing, you will find her having chai and reading a book.