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The age-old debate of running or walking on a treadmill versus outdoors has been going on ever since treadmills were first invented. However, which method is actually more efficient for weight loss? The answer is surprisingly not in black and white, neither approach is 100% better than the other; it all depends on your personal preferences. Which means I cannot give you definitive answer which one is better for you, however I can go over the Pros and Cons of each method so you can decide for yourself.
One thing I do recommend is to not always walk on a treadmill, use of treadmills for long periods have been shown to cause knee issues years down the road. A treadmill is mechanically different from walking on normal ground and in most individual’s works the quadriceps slightly more than your Glutes or Hamstrings; this will eventually cause a muscle imbalance, which can lead to injury if not corrected.
Running on the treadmill VS outdoors
Terrain- On a treadmill you are always on the same terrain, however outside you may encounter soft sand, concrete, grass, gravel or anything in between. As you encounter these subtle differences in terrain, your body is working even more, as it is constantly challenging your nervous system to make split second decisions to keep your body stable and moving in the right direction.
Wind Resistance- There are a lot of critics who I feel give too much power to the difference lack of wind resistance impacts treadmill workouts. Basic studies have shown the lack of wind resistance only contributes to a 1-10% difference in difficulty.
Running Form- While on a treadmill, runners are a lot more likely to use improper running form. Your running technique SHOULD be identical in both forms of training; unfortunately, the moving belt of the treadmill can really throw your running mechanics off sync. On a treadmill, you can move more “bouncy” than normal, which is actually a common trick people use to make higher speeds easier. You are on the treadmills belt for less time therefore it is easier to keep up.
Environmental Challenges- Another unique aspect of running outside is the constantly changing environment, if you are in an urban area you will have to stop and go at street crossings, dodge bystanders and make sharp turns.
Downhill- One aspect treadmills cannot safely accomplish is downhill running, many athletes run downhill to build speed as it helps improve their stride rate. Remember Stride Length x Stride Rate determines your overall running speed.
Mental Effects- There are also many mental effects either form of training could have on you , as with any form of exercise it is always better to do something you enjoy doing then something that you get bored of easily or seems like a chore. Sure, everyone can use a little fresh air and sunshine in their day-to-day life, but maybe you want to watch a fun TV show while you walk or run.
Constant Feedback- Surprisingly, many treadmills these days have very accurate heart rate and total calories burnt calculators built right in. A good one will ask you for many details such as your age and weight.
Safety- Treadmills also offer constant safety, when running outside you need to be constantly alert to your surrounding environment. I cannot say I have heard of a mugger chasing down a runner for his wallet, but dogs and other animals are always a concern. This is why I recommend the first few times you run a route keep your headphones out, you do not want to run into an aggressive dog and never hear it coming.
Weather- Of course, treadmills also offer the benefit of never being “rained out “. I personally find running in a light drizzle relaxing, but there will always be days when people do not want to drive outside, much less walk or run.
Fewer Excuses- Another large benefit treadmills offer is you cannot find excuses to avoid them easily. As long as you have electricity, you can run indoors on the treadmill. Many outside runners “wait until its warmer out” and end up missing their run completely.
Calories Burnt- As always, the actual amount of calorie you burn will rely solely on the intensity and pace of the workout; therefore, there is no clear answer to which burns more calories. Nevertheless, keep in mind on a treadmill you can run at faster speeds, as you are running straight forward you do not need to stop and go, make turns, or watch out for other people. That along with fewer distractions has actually leaned many trial studies to show people burnt more calories on a treadmill versus running outside in the same period of time.
As you can see, each style of training offers its own unique benefits and neither one completely outshines the other. I recommend you keep a healthy change of pace in your workouts so you keep from getting bored, do not forget other forms of cardio either, such as riding a bike or swimming.
For you quick reference I have also included below a table of the calories an average man and woman can expect to burn running.
Average Male- 185lbs
Average Female- 160lbs