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Treadmill Running vs. The Great Outdoors

Treadmill vs. The Great Outdoors

For many of us, this time of year is spent trying to find the motivation to exercise to satisfy that New Year's resolution of getting fit. This internal waging of war often comes down to 3 choices;

- Going to the gym to do some cardio on the treadmill

- Going out for a run

- Staying at home nice and warm

In this blog post, we are going to examine the differences between the first two points: running on a treadmill vs. running outside.


A key factor in choosing which method to use is which is going to get you fitter in the quickest time. Well, according to Exeter University's science labs (, running outdoors uses more energy. The scientists used a group of male runners running at the same speed outdoors, and then again on a treadmill. Energy outputs were measured and then compared between both trials. They found statistically significant data which they attributed to wind resistance. This is a non-existent factor to account for in the gym environment. They then got the same runners to run again on treadmills, but this time with differing angles of incline. They found that the optimum way to recreate the energy expenditure of outdoor running on a treadmill is to set the treadmill to a 1% incline gradient.

In a different study, it was cited that runners tend to overestimate their outdoor running pace when exercising on a treadmill. The scientists in this study ( attributed this due to the lack of visual cues whilst running on a treadmill compared to outdoors. They eloquently phrased 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".


Basically, which is better for our mental state and is more satisfying? Again, scientists at the University of Exeter ( found that exercising in more natural environments and particularly in green spaces is "associated with greater feelings revitalisation and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression, and increased energy". The also stated that those who ran outdoors felt that they were more likely to repeat the action. They however did not care to mention the weather conditions during this study...

Personal Safety

This is the main bit that we are interested in. It is thought that we have to take 1,916 steps for a woman of average height to run a 12 minute mile, and 1,862 steps for a man of average height to run the same 12 minute mile ( Bearing this in mind, our bodies are repeating this same movement thousands upon thousands of times, hitting the exact same hard spot on the treadmill. Over time, this becomes an overuse injury due to the frequency of the impacts and the lack of variation in those impacts.

When running outdoors, due to varying factors like undulating surfaces etc., the forces from running are applied at different angles resulting in impacts in different areas of our feet. This, in turn, helps reduce the likelihood of an overuse injury. By running outdoors, not only can you change your route and scenery, it also gives you and your body a different challenge. This added challenge will also help to strengthen both ligaments and tendons, as well as tone and activate different muscles whilst running.


In closing, we recommend that varied outdoor running is more beneficial than indoor treadmill based exercise. We attribute this to the fact that the greater variety will help keep the body both mentally and physically stimulated, and also has an increased chance of keeping you injury free.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or wish to discuss anything you have read here, please feel free to get in touch...

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