Should I run on a treadmill or outdoors?

10 Aug 2023 23:01PM by Virgin Active

treadmill running

When it comes to running, you’ve got options: outside or inside? While it might be as simple as choosing which one you prefer, there are also pros and cons for each depending on your goals. Let’s take a look at whether running on the treadmill or outside is better for you. 

What's the difference between running indoors and outdoors?

Apart from the environment, there are a few differences between running outdoors and indoors. 

With indoor running, a treadmill feeds a belt under your feet that helps you to sustain a set pace and incline. Because of the cushioning of the belt, treadmill running tends to be kinder to your joints by taking away a lot of the impact that would be felt during road running. 

By contrast, when you run outdoors, you’re exposed to a number of elements – including wind and rain, which may not always work in your favour. While some people may find that there are physical benefits to running on a treadmill, being outdoors also offers numerous mental health benefits as well. 


When is it better to use a treadmill?


At Virgin Active, you’ll find treadmills on all of our gym floors. They’re a top choice for cardio workouts for a few reasons, especially if you’re looking to become a faster runner…

Unlike outdoors, you can set a treadmill to your desired pace to help condition your body to maintain a certain speed. It comes in handy if you’re looking to beat a particular race time or if you want to practice sprints. In fact, on a treadmill you can control everything including your incline and intervals. This can help you record more accurate statistics for your runs to mark your progress effectively.

What’s more, because of how adaptable you can make a treadmill as well as the belt being gentler on your joints it makes an excellent way to run when you’re recovering from injury. Of course, it might not be the best choice (something like swimming is even gentler) but if you’re keen to get back into running, this could be a good option for you. 


When is it better to run outside?

If you’re training for an upcoming race, running outdoors might be better for you. That’s because you can tailor it to mimic the same terrain you will be running on for race day. Whether that’s a marathon on a road or a 10k trail run. 

Running outside when you’re preparing for this kind of race is also useful because it trains other muscles in your body to respond to the conditions. Since you’re unlikely to always be running in a straight line, you engage more of your muscles to help you grip the surface. And as you won’t always be running on the same incline, you condition your body to prepare for the ups and downs of the race. Naturally, this means you’ll typically be using more energy and therefore burning more calories than you would on a treadmill.

The mental benefits

Generally speaking, running outdoors is thought to be better for your mental health. Studies have shown that when you’re outside in the fresh air and in nature, you may: 

• Feel more relaxed
• Feel less stressed and anxious
• Be able to sleep better
• Have a more positive mood 
• Get a healthy dose of Vitamin D

Not only that but running outside can promote ‘mental resilience’. Mental resilience is about being able to cope with difficult circumstances and to bounce back from them. When you encourage yourself to stick to a regular running routine, you’ll inevitably have days where you struggle to motivate yourself or the weather doesn’t suit you. By getting up and out there anyway, you are encouraging yourself to push through difficult situations and challenge your inner voice. 

Something else to consider...

Sometimes, the choice to run on a treadmill or run outdoors has nothing to do with your performance. In the winter, it can be a lot easier to take advantage of the warm indoors with a treadmill run. You don’t need to adjust your route because of poor conditions and you don’t need to worry about being in the dark. 

Ultimately, the decision to run indoors or outdoors is a personal preference that depends on your goals. If you’re racing, we’d definitely recommend spending some time outside alongside your treadmill training. But, if you’re using running as a cardio workout to keep fit, the treadmill is a great place to be. 

What’s for certain is that both of these workouts are great, whatever you choose. So have fun with it!
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