Treadmill Running =/= Outdoor Running

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t this the girl who likes the treadmill? Who runs on the treadmill regularly? Who wrote a whole post about why treadmill running actually works for her? Yep. And it’s still true. I still like the treadmill. Honestly, if it weren’t for the treadmill, I don’t know that I would have run at all this winter.

What I’m trying to say here is that while the treadmill is a valid option, and one I clearly can’t live without, running on the treadmill simply does not adequately prepare you for, and does not in any way compare to, running outside. I sort of re-realized this on my long run last Wednesday. Here’s why:

Treadmills keep a consistent speed.

You get on the treadmill, set your speed, and go. You don’t have to think about it, and your body doesn’t have to self regulate. You just move your legs to match the speed of the belt. Outside, the only thing controlling your pace is you, and it’s a lot harder to keep a consistent speed when you are the only motivating factor. Thus, I usually run too fast or too slow outside.

There are no pedestrians to contend with on the treadmill.

Because the weather is getting nicer, there are people EVERYWHERE. Moms with babies in strollers, couples walking hand in hand, people walking to and from work, people walking their dogs. And you have to compete with them for space. Weave around them. Call out “On your left!” to get them to move over. Or do the awkward side-step dance where you keep getting in each other’s way. This definitely slows me down.

There are no obstacles to contend with on the treadmill.

Puddles. Mud. Ice. Snow. Dog poop. These are all realities of running outside, and if you want to keep your feet clean and dry for the duration of your run, some maneuvering is definitely necessary. I probably added a quarter of a mile to my run on Wednesday just by swinging wide into peoples’ lawns to avoid the puddles and/or mud that have taken over Burlington sidewalks.

Treadmills are flat.

I mean, unless you change the elevation, of course. But you have sole control of the elevation profile on your treadmill run. I don’t know about you, but 99% of my treadmill runs are flat. I’ve found that running a “hill” on a treadmill is somehow way harder than running an actual hill. They also don’t really simulate downhill well. And then I get outdoors after training on a treadmill for months and wonder why RUNNING IS SUDDENLY SO HARD!!

Treadmills are monotonous. 

Outdoor running is just way more fun. Fresh air, sunshine (or maybe rain), people, birds, animals, scenery… Whereas on the treadmill your eyes are either glued to a TV screen or desperately trying not to make eye contact with the meat head squat grunting or whatever it is he’s doing. Not so much fun.


When you run outside, you experience much more extreme temperatures, and can experience a wide range of temperatures even on a single run. Generally speaking, treadmills are indoors, and you therefore experience a constant, moderate temperature. Also, there’s no rain/hail/snow/sleet on the treadmill. ‘Nuff said. Which means that when you’ve been training on a treadmill all winter and then try to run a race in -6 windchill temps, you’re in for a rude awakening.

As you can see, treadmill running, while a necessary evil, just doesn’t fully prepare you for running outside. And running outside is obviously better.

Did I miss any of the major differences between outdoor and treadmill running?

Do you love or hate the treadmill?

14 thoughts on “Treadmill Running =/= Outdoor Running

  1. charissarunning says:

    This is all so very true. I know that I can’t run the same speeds outside that I do on my treadmill. Another thing about outside is stopping for lights. Sometimes they help me out (if I’m starting to get out of breath, a red light means ‘YES!’), but more often than not, stopping at a light just throws me off. And since getting back outside, my legs have been so sore because outdoor running is working different muscles now too (the added resistance I believe!).

  2. SuzLyfe says:

    Great summary! Also–treadmills make you work your body very differently–less glute and calves engagement and often overuse of the hamstrings–that is how I pulled mine! But used appropriately, the treadmill can be a great training tool.

  3. runsaltrun says:

    I love the treadmill, but there definitely has been a re-learning curve now that I’m starting to move outside. I do constant elevation changes on there which helps (and I agree that treadmill hills are harder!) and do think that it has been a great training tool, but if you are preparing for a big race occasional outdoor runs are definitely preferable.

  4. Amy says:

    I love the treadmill, and I love running outside. My biggest issue is switching between them. I need time to adjust (mentally). So when I make the switch in the winter, I generally stick with the treadmill until the snow is all gone for good and then switch back to running outdoors. I should probably work on my mental issues……

  5. Healthy Simple Smart says:

    I think you got them all! Maybe you should hang stuff from your ceiling that you have to dodge while you run on the treadmill and put gum on your treadmill belt? Oooh and then get a box fan going and have someone throw water into the wind on some days! That could mimic the outdoors more! I just straight up hate the treadmill. It always feels like I’m going breakneck fast while it tells me I’m going SUPER slow. Team Outside!

  6. sweatyandfit says:

    what an interesting perspective on treadmill running! i always viewed treadmills as the bane of my running existence, but never really thought about the advantages! i just love to run outdoors because i get bored SO fast with any sort of workout. the only runs i do on the treadmill are 5 mins to warm up before my workout, or 15 minutes of sprint intervals.

    • DarlinRae says:

      It’s definitely not my favorite, but I don’t hate it. For some people (like me), it’s the only safe available option in the winter. It also makes speed work really easy!

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