Treadmill Running Vs. Outdoor Running

by Kevin Rail

About Kevin Rail



Running is a type of cardiovascular exercise. A simple definition of cardio is any exercise that raises your heart rate to a level where you can still talk, but you start to sweat a little, according to the Texas Heart Institute. Running outdoors and running on a treadmill have their similarities and differences. Before embarking on a regular program, see which type is right for you.

Wind Resistance

One of the biggest differences between running on a treadmill and running outside is the wind resistance. On a treadmill, you are surrounded by dead air; outdoors, you may battle anything from a slight breeze to a 50-mph wind. This works two ways. If you run into the wind, it will be difficult, but if you run with the wind to your back, it will be easier.


When you run on the treadmill and outdoors, your body experiences impact. Being that the treadmill has a little bit of a spring, it is more forgiving than running outside. This impact does have benefits because it is weight-bearing. Weight-bearing exercise builds denser, stronger bones, which can help prevent osteoporosis, according to the University of Arizona. Terrain is another difference between running on a treadmill or running outdoors. Treadmills are always smooth and flat. When you run outside, you can encounter a number of surface differences, especially if you do trail running. This can make outdoor running more challenging.


Treadmills come with a digital console that allows you to adjust the speed and incline while you run. This is not the case when you are outside. You simply have to speed up, slow down or seek out hills to adjust your intensity.

Muscles Worked

The muscles worked with treadmill and outdoor running are identical. The glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and anterior tibialis are the main muscles. The glutes and hamstrings contract when you kick your leg backward into hip extension. The quadriceps contract when you move your thigh toward your stomach and straighten your leg. These motions are called hip flexion and knee extension. The calves get worked when you point your toes down and the tibialis anterior gets worked when you point your toes up. The tibialis anterior muscles run down the front of the shins. The abs also get recruited to keep you balanced and to generate power.


When you run on a treadmill, you are like a gerbil -- your body stays in one place the whole time. From this position, you can easily make changes in your intensity by pressing the appropriate buttons on the console. When you run outside however, you have to move your entire body, which exerts more effort.


Treadmill running and outdoor running are both types of physical activity that can bring you equal benefits. Regular physical activity can help lower triglycerides, boost your good cholesterol, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk for diabetes, according to the American Heart Association.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or