Running on the Treadmill or Outside, What’s the Difference?

man jogging

Do you get a better workout when you are running outside versus running inside on the treadmill?  Well, that depends…  The newer treadmills have a lot of bells & whistles that if you take advantage of can give you a great workout. Some even emulate running outside.

Running on the treadmill gives you the same fitness and calorie burning benefits as running outside. However, there are differences between free range running (or outside) and treadmill running:

  • The lack of wind resistance on the treadmill

The lack of wind resistance and the assistance of the moving belt make treadmill running slightly easier than free range running.  When running on the treadmill you are running in place. You are not moving through the air. When you run outside the air creates resistance. Studies have estimated that outside air resistance creates an increase in your workload of between 2% and 10%, depending upon your running speed. The faster you run, the more of an effect the air resistance has on you. You can overcome this issue by elevating your treadmill to 1% or level 1. That slight incline will make your treadmill workout more equal to running outside on level ground.

  •  The flat, unchanging surface of the treadmill deck

When running outside, you encounter all types of uneven and unstable running surfaces. A changing surface will force your neuromuscular system to become more proprioceptive because it must make split second adjustments in order to keep your body stable and moving in the right direction. The flat and even surface of the treadmill removes this whole issue.

  • The effect the moving belt has on your running or walking stride.

All runners should concentrate on proper form when they run, whether they train on a treadmill or the road. This is especially important for new treadmill users. The most common form problem associated with treadmill running is the tendency of the moving belt to “grab” your feet and pull them back under your body. This can result in a stumbling, shuffling stride that places excessive stress on your knees, hips and back. To avoid this, concentrate on quickly lifting your feet off the belt. You should have a quick, compact running stride when on the treadmill, which is also the best outside running stride.

  • The adjustable cushioning on the treadmill

One of the nice things about the newer treadmills is that you can adjust how much cushioning you have when your foot impacts the treadmill.  The more cushioning the easier it is on your ankles, knees, hips & back.


Holly Kouvo is a certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Specialist, speaker and writer who specializes in helping people lose hundreds of pounds. Learn more at

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