Running on a Treadmill or Outside – is There a Difference?


During bad weather the treadmill is ideal for still getting in a few kilometers. But have you ever asked yourselves if both are equally effective? Or have you ever noticed differences in the performance, when you are running on a treadmill or outside? In this blogpost, we are going to look at this more closely.


Running doesn’t equal running

As a matter of fact, running on a treadmill and running outside are not the same thing. Outside, we constantly have to push our body forwards, in order to move on, while on a treadmill, the belt runs automatically beneath us. And running on a treadmill is a little easier, because there is no air resistance.


We can see the same thing with hiking. When hiking, our hiking boots make walking more strenuous. If you were to have hiking boots on when running on a treadmill, that would be much more strenuous than wearing gym shoes.



This is how you can make your work out on the treadmill as effective as possible

With a few adjustments, you can have the same effectiveness on the treadmill as with running in the fresh air. The incline is the deciding factor. Researchers in scientific studies have examined how great the incline has to be, in order to achieve the same difficulty as outside, assuming the same speed. The researchers found out that a 1% incline makes running on a treadmill just as strenuous as outside.


In order to prepare for your next hiking vacation, when you will climb over mountain ridges in hiking boots, set the incline on the treadmill to 3%. Then you are not only compensating for the difference between inside and outside, but also for the additional effect of clunky hiking boots.


Running on a treadmill or outside – Comparison



What are the Advantages of the Treadmill?

During bad weather conditions, the treadmill clearly has the advantage. What constitutes bad weather comes down to personal preference. Some people practically melt in high temperatures and look for air-conditioned coolness for their workouts. Others, however, hate to do their workouts in the rain or cold air outside. In any case, you can stay in shape on the treadmill, independent of the weather.


On the treadmill, you can select a wide variety of routes and programs. It doesn’t matter whether you want hilly terrain or exactly-times interval training, all you have to do is program your treadmill at the beginning. Many treadmills now even offer several pre-programmed work outs. Now you can simulate a cross-country or mountain run anytime and anywhere with the push of a button. Interval training is also easy to do on a treadmill, since you don’t have to worry about the time or if you are maintaining the same speed. Many treadmills offer pre-programmed interval workouts, as well.



What are Disadvantages of the Treadmill?

Clearly, the biggest disadvantage of the treadmill is, that it is pretty boring after a while. Sure, you can listen to music or even watch TV in some gyms, but there really isn’t much variety.

Little variety can have a negative effect on tendons and ligaments. Routes that don’t have a smooth surface, but are bumpy and uneven, instead, strengthen the supporting structures around the ankle and knee. This is really important for preventing injuries. Ideal routes for this are gravel and wood paths.


On the treadmill, you also don’t get a feel for speed on the treadmill, nor for how to settle into the right speed. You just type everything in and go. Then, if you run outside, it is hard to gauge how fast you are going, or for how strength you have left. For recreational runners, this isn’t a problem. But for those, who are running against a certain time and are preparing for a half marathon, for instance, having that sense of your own speed is really important.




In the end, with a slightly greater incline, you can work on your running performance almost as effectively on the treadmill as outside. If you want to work out regularly on the treadmill, it is important to have a good mix. For sure, the treadmill allows us to follow our work out plan even during bad outside conditions. For that reason alone, treadmills are definitely recommended.




Fattorini, L., Pittiglio G., Federico, B., Pallicca, A., Bernardi, M., & Rodio, A. (2012). Workload Comparison between Hiking and Indoor Physical Activity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(10), 2883-2889.

Jones, A.M., Doust, J.H. (1996). A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running. Journal of Sports Science, 14(4), 321-327.