Is it better to run outside or on a treadmill?


Source: BBC

Runners have always had a view on whether treadmill running is easier than doing it outdoors. Michael Mosley weighs up his options.

For those of us who rather optimistically made a New Year’s resolution to do a bit more exercise, running is the obvious and popular option. But is it better to do your running outdoors, in the wind and rain, or to go down to your local gym and work up a sweat on the treadmill, while surreptitiously admiring your reflection in a giant mirror?

It’s not something I’ve really thought much about before, possibly because I’m not that crazy about running, but it’s certainly a topic that divides running enthusiasts. So what are the arguments, for and against?


Firstly, which of these approaches is likely to get you fitter? Those who are enthusiastic about running outdoors claim it uses up more energy. The main reason is wind resistance, which you don’t get a lot of when you are a gym rat. But fans of the gym say this is not necessarily true. In a study conducted by Exeter University, Prof Andrew Jones took nine male runners and made them run along a road, measuring their energy expenditure. Then they got these volunteers to run at the same speed on a treadmill, but on different inclines. What they found is that runners could adequately compensate for the extra effort of running outdoors by setting the treadmill to a 1% gradient


It’s worth knowing that when you run on a treadmill you tend to overestimate the pace at which you are going. A study carried out in Singapore which asked people to run outdoors and then match their speed on a treadmill, found that when people ran on a treadmill they went significantly slower, even though they thought they were going just as fast. The scientists behind this particular study suggest this is probably because when you are running indoors you don’t get the same visual cues.

Close-up of running legs on a treadmillImage copyrightiStock

Or as they put it: “The unmatched perception of speed is likely due to the distortion of normal visual inputs resulting from the discrepancy between observed and expected optic flow.”

Whatever the cause, it seems that when we run outside we unconsciously work harder.


If running outdoors edges indoors when it comes to work rate, which approach is safer? In the gym, of course, you are unlikely to be hit by falling branches, slip on dog poo or trip over a kerb. But when it comes to injuries there is a hazard which is commoner among treadmill runners – overuse injury due to unvarying repetition.

When you are on a treadmill the tendency is to plug away, like a hamster on a wheel, doing the same thing over and over again. For every mile you run your foot will hit the ground about 1,000 times. Repeating the same movement puts you at greater risk of joint or ligament damage. So if you use a treadmill it’s a good idea to mix it up a bit by varying the speed and the incline.

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1 reply

  1. Really important points included.Although road running is better but a best treadmill can give same taste like road running.I think if anyone has some possibilities to running on the road, he/she should avoid treadmill.But if not possible, then treadmill can be the best solution for him/her.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing an awesome content.It appereatite me to write this comment

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