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What Is the Difference Between Running on a Treadmill vs. Road Running?

What Is the Difference Between Running on a Treadmill vs. Road Running?

December 20, 2023

Running on a treadmill and road running have their pros and cons. Both are great workouts. Find out how to choose between the two or do a mix of both.

What Is the Difference Between Running on a Treadmill vs. Road Running?


If you’re new to the world of running, and aren’t sure where to start, you may be wondering if you should start on a treadmill or just go outside and start running. There are pros and cons of both approaches. Running outdoors brings a little bit more variability in training due to the inclines, declines, and terrain you have to navigate to run. However, treadmills offer a constant surface along with uniform speed or even programming to mimic hills or trail running.


Treadmill Running

It is a commonly held opinion that running on a treadmill is easier. However, you can end up working equally as hard and get the same level of intensity out of a workout on both treadmills and running outside. It is difficult to accurately quantify effort and exertion because these factors are quite subjective to the athlete.


An accurate measure of effort is typically determined by heart rate and or perceived exertion. Perceived exertion is a scale that athletes use to determine how hard they worked or how difficult their workout was. In general, the perceived exertion of running on a treadmill tends to be lower, likely due to the uniform terrain that you’re running on despite heart rate and calories that are burned.


Weather conditions play a large part in this perceived exertion because on a particularly hot or cold day, you may feel like you work harder running the same distance due to the subtleties of the terrain and the impact of the weather. You can get a great workout running on a treadmill, and the difference in difficulty is minor.


Running on a treadmill can be quite convenient, especially if you own one or if weather conditions in your region make it difficult to run outside. Treadmill running is a bit less taxing on your joints and the body as well due to the even surface and customizable pace. The cons of running on a treadmill are that the incline is often uniform and doesn’t accurately mimic the inclines you would approach outdoors. You cannot make turns on a treadmill as well, and some athletes find running on a treadmill to be mundane due to the lack of being outside and getting fresh air.

ASICS woman athlete running outside on a road trail

Outdoor Running


Outdoor running is relatively easy to start and extremely accessible, requiring no equipment at all. Outdoor running also allows you to get outside and be in nature which can be a great morale boost to get you out of the office or house and get moving. Running outside also has more carryover in terms of preparing for races due to the variables and terrain that you’re running on, contrasting with the uniformity of running on a treadmill.


You will likely burn slightly more calories running outside just due to the uneven environment, weather, wind, inclines and declines, traffic, and other obstacles. However, it is really a matter of personal preference. The pros of running on a treadmill are the uniform environment, weather, and terrain.


The downside of outdoor running is that there is slightly more risk of injury due to weather conditions, the ground conditions, and the stress that running on various surfaces puts on the body. In addition, if roads are slippery there can be other hazards that make outdoor running slightly more dangerous. However, it should be relatively easy to evaluate what kind of conditions weather-wise are permissible to do your activity, and you can implement a mix of both treadmill and road running if there is a high variance of weather conditions in your region.

ASICS man running outside on a trail path

How to Choose


If you are running for the health and cardio benefits, then treadmill running is a great option for you. A lot of treadmills even have built-in heart monitors where you can periodically check your heart rate and make sure you are getting into the various zones of activity you want.


However, if your goal is to get race-ready, then running outside has more benefits for you. If difficulties with the weather are relevant in your region, you can supplement times when you can’t make it outside with workouts on the treadmill and still receive the benefit of getting your training in for that day.


No matter what your goals are, whatever you like and will stick to over the long term is most important. Training is better than not training, so if there are days you want to switch up your routine for one reason or another there is nothing wrong with that. If you have the access to a treadmill, you may be lucky enough to be able to take advantage of both forms of training. One way or another, you are getting your body moving and genuinely enjoying exercise and fitness. As always consult your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program.

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