An indoor gym with a couple of treadmills, an elliptical, and a cycle.

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If you’ve ever used the term “dreadmill,” you’re probably not much of a fan of running on a treadmill. But treadmill running can be a great alternative to outdoor running.

Check out these situations for running on a treadmill vs running outside and find out which is better!

Muscle Activation when Running

A treadmill lessens the work for you because the “ground” (the belt) moves independently of you. When you’re running outside all your movement is because you are working to propel yourself forward.

This means that you activate more muscles when you run outside compared to running on a treadmill.

Winner: Running Outside

Running Effects on Bone Density

Running can help build bone density. This is truer outside than on a treadmill. Treadmills are designed to absorb a lot of the impact. The ground outside is not. This leads to a (slightly) better increase in bone density when running outside.

Winner: Running Outside

Running and Injury

While the treadmill lost on bone density due to impact absorption, that same thing means the treadmill will result in fewer injuries.

Because a treadmill absorbs some of the impacts, it also cushions your joints and helps reduce overuse injuries.

Winner: Running on a Treadmill

Running while Adapting to Higher Speeds

When you’re running outside, it’s hard to control your speed. On a treadmill, it’s a setting. You have to adjust your pace to match the speed you set. This forces you to get used to running at faster speeds.

This can be beneficial training to increase your running outside speed, too.

Winner: Running on a Treadmill

Running for Race Preparation

If you’re preparing for a race, you should be running outside. Wind, inclines, declines, uneven pavement, weather, sun, and more are factors that you can’t train for on a treadmill.

Winner: Running Outside


It’s too hot. It’s too cold. It’s raining. It’s snowing. It’s foggy. It’s crazy windy. And on and on and on. These are complaints about running outside. But when you’re running on a treadmill, you get to stay in a dry and temperature controled environment.

Winner: Running on a Treadmill

Your Control when Running

You have control over everything when you’re running on a treadmill. Speed, incline, interval, time, distance, and more. You control everything.

Winner: Running on a Treadmill

Running Variety

I’m not talking about scenery (although running outside would win).

Most treadmills cannot replicate downhill running. They also have maximum speeds and maximum inclines. This restricts your training.

Winner: Running Outside

Two dogs running side by side

How to Make a Treadmill More Interesting

This depends on where you’re using your treadmill and your own preferences.

Treadmills in gyms usually have their own personal TVs on them (unless your gym is using older equipment). If you can, why not watch your favorite TV shows from a treadmill instead of your couch.

You can also put an iPad or smartphone on your treadmill and watch something that way. Be aware of your posture though because you don’t want to be looking down.

Nothing to watch? Pop in some headphones and listen to your favorite (or most inspiring) music. Listen to a podcast or audiobook.

How to Use a Treadmill

Not all treadmills are the same. Follow these guides to make sure you’re safely using your treadmill.


It’s important that you warm up before starting your run, just like you would outside.

Walk for about 5 minutes before you begin your treadmill workout.

Check Your Settings

Learn about the various settings that your treadmill offers.

  • Can you check your heart rate? How? Is it accurate?
  • How do you see your calories burned?
  • What pre-set workouts/intervals does it offer? Can you set your own?

Incline Settings

You want to set your incline to 1%, not 0%. This helps make your treadmill more like running outside.

Don’t set your incline too steep. It’s great that your treadmill hits a 10% incline, but in the real world that steepness probably wouldn’t last for long. You shouldn’t go over about 4% incline for longer than 5 minutes.

Change up your incline during your workout (or use a preset workout so you can set it and forget it).


Don’t hold on to the side while using the treadmill. Keep your arms bent at 90 degrees and swinging slightly, jus tlike you would outside.

Keep your body positioned upright. Don’t lean forward.

Look straight ahead. Try to limit how often you check the treadmill console stats. You want the majority of your run to have your gaze ahead.


Make sure that your stride length is natural – what it would be outdoors. Avoid strides that are too long or choppy. You want to be running smoothly.

Try to land on your midfoot and push up through your toes as much as possible.

Cool Down

Just like warming up, it’s important that you cool down. You should walk until your heart rate drops below 100 bpm.

Don’t Be Stupid

Use a treadmill safely. Don’t be an idiot about it. Treadmills used incorrectly can cause serious injury.

Watch this hilarious (and terrible) compilation of treadmill fails, but don’t be these people

Treadmills Work

pinterest pin: running on a treadmill (vs running outside)

Treadmills offer a great way to get some cardio exercise indoors.

Even if you prefer to run/jog/walk outside (I certainly do), sometimes you might not be able to.

Don’t overlook the treadmill when considering your exercise.

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