Treadmill vs Outdoors

July 28, 2009 by  
Filed under The Fitness Bug

Cardio on the treadmill or on outside

We all know running is a vital part of exercising when maintaining a fit and healthy body. We can choose to run on the treadmill, or stretch and flex our legs in the outside terrain.

But which do you choose?

As someone who had sport built into me from a young age, the majority of training/running sessions happened outdoors. So for me, any running that i do will usually happen outdoors. It’s not to say running on a treadmill is a bad thing, it does have its benefits. Below i’ll describe the pro’s and cons of both:

As i stated, running on the treadmill isn’t a bad thing at all. And using the treadmill during those winter months will be more favorable for sure. The cold, rain, ice and snow of winter will wreak havoc on our fitness level and the condition of our bodies. No matter how hard we try to stay in shape, the bad weather and short days make keeping fit a difficult task. Running on the treadmill offers fitness and calorie burning benefits that are very similar to outside running. However, there are differences between outdoor running and treadmill running. The primary differences are:

– The lack of wind resistance

– A flat and unchanging surface

– The effect the moving belt has on your running or walking stride.

The main way to overcome this would be to have your treadmill workout routines mimic your outdoor training routine. But lets look fiurther into each of those that i have mentioned above.

The lack of Wind resistance

Ever since i was introduced to the treadmill in my teens, i never had been a big fan of this running machine. As i mentioned earlier, i was raised on the ‘train outdoors’ mentality. But i didn’t find out until later on the reasons why i disliked treadmill running so much. It was because of lack of wind resistance. The lack of wind resistance and the assistance of the moving belt make treadmill running slightly easier than outdoor running. So therefore i found it too easy, and going down a level in performance certainly will not improve your progress. When running on the treadmill you are running in place. You are not moving through the air. When you run outside the air creates resistance. It is estimated that outside air resistance creates an increase in your workload of between 2% and 10%, depending upon your running speed. The faster you run, the more of an effect the air resistance has on you. This problem is very easily overcome by elevating your treadmill to 1% or level 1. The slight incline will make your treadmill workout more equal to running outdoors.

A flat and unchanging surface

I have done quite a bit of outdoor running over the years and watched many others do their run also (which i’m sure most of you have), And every scenario goes a little like this (not necessarily in this order):

– A long run through the grass

– On to the pavement

– Dodging people or animals

-Run onto gravel

– A short hill to run down, run around puddles

Unless those reading this know better than me, there is no treadmill in the world that can mimic all the things that you face there (although it would be interesting to see such a thing built 🙂 ). The main negative result of this is the lack of proprioceptive training. Proprioception is an important skill when running on the treadmill. Proprioception is basically intuitively feeling and knowing the position and motion of your body, feet, legs, arms, etc. at all times. It is being aware of all of the different actions of your running stride. This is something that, to a limited extent, you do naturally. But to maximize your level of awareness, practice consciously being aware of your position on the belt, the amount of forward lean, the position of your hips, the angle of your feet and all stages of your running stride.

When running outside, you encounter all types of uneven and unstable running surfaces such as those i mentioned above. A changing surface will force your neuro-muscular system to become more proprioceptive because it must make split second adjustments in order to keep your body stable and moving in the right direction. The flat and even surface of the treadmill removes this valuable training opportunity. So, if you do most or all of your workouts on the treadmill, you should practice proprioception at all times. You can also use a wobble board. A wobble board is just what it sounds like. It is a board with a half sphere on the bottom of it. It “wobbles” when you step or stand on it. Performing exercises on this type of board will help build and maintain those proprioceptive skills.

Proprioception is important in all running activities, but even more so when running on the treadmill. Runners tend to allow the action of the belt and the lack of wind resistance to change their stride to a more upright, bouncy form with a shorter, less powerful stride. Being more aware of your running mechanics will make it easier to transfer your normal stride to the treadmill and visa versa.

The effect the moving belt has on your running or walking

I won’t talk about my dislike of the treadmill anymore, as i think you would have heard enough of it by now. But the only reason i do use it is to do what i call ‘entertainment running’. Which basically means taking it ‘easy’ while watching TV at the same time (don’t make a habit of this).

In general your running form should not change when you are training on the treadmill. Unfortunately, the moving belt of the treadmill can create havoc with your running mechanics. The moving belt can cause some runners to lean too far forward at the waist in an attempt to “keep up” with the belt. Other runners may run with an extremely “bouncy” stride or may run with a very short and tight stride. You can avoid these form problems by focusing on your running mechanics.

All runners should concentrate on proper form when they run, whether they train on a treadmill or the road. This is especially important for new treadmill users. It is much better to perfect your form right away, rather than acquire bad running form habits that may be hard to break. Good running form is the same no matter where you train.

The most efficient running posture is one that is mostly upright and relaxed, with a slight, whole body, forward lean beginning at the ankles. You should not lean forward at the waist. Your chest should be pushed out and your shoulders back and relaxed. Avoid all tension in your upper body. Tension is a form wrecker.
Leaning too far forward at the waist will cause a stumbling, high impact motion that will slow you down and put excessive stress on your knees, hips and ankles. Leaning backward will cause you to run with too much vertical motion and will also stress your hips and back. Even the totally vertical posture that many running experts recommend has some built in stride issues. When running with a very vertical posture, you tend to reach out with both your legs and arms. This wastes energy and slows you down A slight, whole body, forward lean will enlist the help of gravity just enough to assist with directing your momentum smoothly forward. Keep your hips pressed forward and your butt tucked in. Visualize standing face first against a wall. Press your hips forward so the front of your hips touches the wall. Running with your hips forward will help keep your motion going forward instead of up and down. It will also allow you to drive your knees efficiently forward. Your foot should touchdown on the ball of your foot, with your foot directly under your center of gravity, not on your heel with your foot in front of your body. If you land on your heel you are over striding and are putting too much stress on your knees and hips. You are also putting on the brakes with each stride. Landing either flat footed or on the ball of your foot minimizes the impact and keeps your forward momentum going strong.

So there you have it, the treadmill does have its good points and bad points. The main issue and most obvious issue is where the moving belt can suddenly swipe you off your feet (Youtube for many a demonstration!). This can lead to sudden embarresment and cause possible injury to your knees, hips and back. Be careful!

You have to be swift if this does occur. Quickly grab the sides of the treadmill and lift yourself up.

You need to have a quick, compact running stride, which is also the best outside running stride. Count the number of strides you are taking in 1 minute. If you are running correctly you should be taking approximately 85 – 95 full strides per minute. If you are taking less than that you are spending too much time on your feet.

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