Running on a treadmill vs running outside

a photo of a woman running on a treadmill
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We don’t like to admit it, but us runners fall into two teams — those who can’t think of anything better than the appeal of hitting the roads on a beautiful sunny day, and those who prefer to clock their miles indoors. Of course, there are also runners who mix both into their routines, but is running on a treadmill actually easier than running outside? 

To answer this question, we’ll have a look at the pros and cons of both running outside, and running indoors. Of course, it goes without saying that both forms of running are great forms of exercise. The benefits of running span more than just weight loss; running can help increase your bone strength, improve your cardiovascular fitness, and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

If you’re just getting started on your running journey, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve spent hours testing the best running shoes on the market. If you are looking to up your miles indoors, we’ve also found the best treadmills to add to your home gym setup, and the best under-desk treadmills to use in your home office. 

a photo of a woman running outside

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The benefits of running outside  

As well as getting that all-important Vitamin D from running in the sun, there are some physical benefits to running outdoors. These include: 

More muscle activation: Compared to running on the treadmill, when you run on the road, or the trail, you’re having to use more muscles to grab the ground and push off. One of the downsides of running on the treadmill is that the belt assists leg turnover, meaning you don't have to work quite as hard. When running outside, you’re also forced to not just move in a linear motion, as you’ll often find you have to dodge people, cars, and objects on the sidewalk as you move. 

There are benefits to running on a harder surface: As much as everyone tells you running on the road is bad for your knees, research has shown that there are benefits to running on harder surfaces when it comes to your bones.

Better preparation for race day: If your goal is to run a 5k (take a look at our guide on how to run a 5K) or a marathon (how to run a marathon), you’re probably going to want to do the majority of your running outside. The weather and conditions on race day can be unpredictable, and running outside prepares you for these. 

a photo of a man running on a treadmill

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The benefits of running on a treadmill 

The surface is softer on your joints: Treadmills are typically a much softer surface to run on, and therefore softer on the joints. Looking after your joints can help you reduce injuries, and keep running for longer. 

You can completely control the environment: If you find it easier to run faster indoors, you’re not alone. A treadmill makes it easier to stay at a certain pace, because the belt does some of the hard work for you. Eventually, you’ll find it easier to translate this to your outdoor miles, making the treadmill a great training tool. It’s also easier to control the incline on a treadmill, which means you can add hills to your training, even if you live in a completely flat part of the world. 

...and the weather: Not to state the obvious, but the weather is never going to affect your indoor miles. If the conditions outside are icy, snowy, or just downright unsafe — or maybe you're uncomfortable running in the dark — the treadmill is a great alternative to missing a run completely. 

Is running on a treadmill easier than running outside? 

In a lot of ways, yes. You can more easily maintain a consistent pace, it's easier on your joints, and you don't have to worry about the weather or any other conditions. However, there are also some things you just can’t replicate on a treadmill, such as running downhill, or learning how to cope with adverse weather. However, research has suggested that there are things you can do to help, such as setting your treadmill to a 1% incline to offset the lack of wind resistance.

There are pros and cons to both running on the treadmill and running outside. If you’re training for a race, you’re probably going to want to focus on clocking most of your miles outdoors, but if you’re running to keep fit, then a treadmill can help you reach your goals even if it's rainy and cold outside. The bottom line is to create an environment to make it as enjoyable as possible for you to work out.

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Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.