Outdoor vs. Indoor Running | The Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans LLC


And so it begins. The air is getting cooler, the rain is turning to sleet, which turns to snow (at least here in Colorado ALREADY!) and the motivation to go on a run completely fades away. The imminent use of the treadmill is in my near future, and I’m dreading it.

I’m the type of person who prefers to run outdoors, with an ever-changing scenery, natural inclines and declines, and with my pup, of course. The treadmill takes away all of these components for me and running becomes boring – a chore. Plus, I’m now back in school (week 1 of grad school done! Only soooooooooo many more to go…..) and therefore have to claw and fight my way to securing a treadmill at the college gym, which can be a difficult task.

I realize the obvious thought here is “well, then just run outside.” Turns out I’m a pansy when it comes to the cold.

Some prefer the treadmill to the terrain and there are pros and cons to running on both.

Outdoor vs. Indoor Running

  • Your hamstrings are more engaged when you run outdoors. On a treadmill, the belt assists your stride and ‘helps’ you lift your leg behind you. This also puts more pressure on your quads, engaging them more.
  • When running outdoors, everything is constantly changing and your body adapts without you knowing. It requires extra energy and effort to maintain stride, speed and balance. On a treadmill, you can essentially zone out – but this can also lead to a misstep and a world of pain. Running outdoors can also cause injury if you trip or land wrong.
  • On a treadmill, your body gets used to an even, constant stride. When switching outdoors, the most minute changes in the way you land can cause injury because different ligaments and tendons have not been engaged as much on the treadmill.
  • There is zero wind resistance indoors. Even the slightest wind resistance outside can alter and engage the way you run. You can try an incline of 1 to 1.5 to make up for the lack of wind resistance on the treadmill.

Scientific research has proven that setting the treadmill to a 1% grade accurately reflects the energy costs and simulates outdoor running. Therefore, by setting the treadmill to a 1% grade, you can offset the lack of wind resistance and the belt moving under you to make treadmill running the same effort as running outdoors.

Corroborating research has shown that VO2 max is the same when running on a treadmill compared to outside, clearly demonstrating that running on a treadmill is as effective as running outside. Furthermore, research revealsthat bio-mechanical patterns did not change when test subjects ran on a treadmill versus when they ran outside.

Therefore, we can decisively conclude that running on a treadmill has the same effect as running outside when running at a 1% grade.


Outdoor runners transitioning indoors AND indoor runners transitioning outdoors need to do so gradually. Your body has become adjusted to the environment it’s in during a run. Switching over too quickly could potentially result in injury.

So, let us know: Are you an outdoor runner or an indoor (treadmill) runner?

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