The answer to this question is not tilted in just one direction. It is dependent on a number of factors, so let’s look at the pros and cons of each for a variety of issues. Once you’ve done that, you can decide how you will focus most of your running energy.
Outdoors. Many people feel that running outdoors leaves them feeling more energetic. This may be as much about psychology as physiology. Outdoors can provide sunshine, fresh air, and changing scenery to keep you mentally alert. While outdoors, you also can usually get your daily fix of Vitamin D – an essential vitamin associated with cellular energy.
Treadmill. On a treadmill, you may not get any of the sunshine vitamin (which you can also get in a capsule form), and the air may not be fresh, but you can get programs that provide visual stimuli, other than the other gym rats close by where you are running.
Safety and Security
Outdoors. When in the great outdoors, there are a number of safety and security issues to face. Your running takes you over varying landscapes and conditions, so if you are prone to injury or healing from an injury, it may be better to keep to situations where you control those. That doesn’t mean you have to shift indoors, but you could instead use a high school or college track that is well-maintained.
Of course, the other obvious security issue has more to do with choices made by others. In the outdoors, especially in times when places are less populated such as early morning, there is an opportunity for someone to take advantage of you in that case. Even strong guys on their own can be vulnerable to attack. If that is a concern, put together a group of three or more runners that are committed to running with you. There’s more safety in numbers.
Treadmill. The treadmill offers a predictable surface for running; there are not unexpected dips or ant hills on the path you’ll be running. You can change the view, grade of the climb, and speed, but you’ll continue to get a smooth surface. When you are recovering from an injury or have problems with stability and such, a treadmill can be a safer choice. But because of that smoother surface, your ligaments, tendons, and muscles won’t have to continually adapt to changing circumstances. That may translate to less strength in those same ligaments, etc.
Personal security in the gym may be better, but considering there many 24-hour facilities, there still may be some problems as you get into and out of the gym at off hours. If this is the route you decide to take, make sure your gym has great lighting in their parking lot, and for women, verify there is a security person who can escort you to your vehicle under less optimal conditions.
Speed and Effort
In Singapore, they did a study about speed while running outdoors vs. on a treadmill. What they found was that while running on a treadmill, people thought they were going faster than they were. So for those who run both outdoors and on a treadmill, when they are on the treadmill and think they are going the same speed as they usually run when outdoors, they are not. In fact, they are going much slower.
It’s just speculation as to why that is so, but many believe it is because there are many more visual cues in the moving landscape outside. Your eyes identify how fast you are running there. But when indoors on a treadmill, even if using a visual program, it’s only directly in front of you, so there’s no impact on your peripheral vision.
You’ll face wind resistance when running outside, so many believe they get a better workout when running in the fresh air because you’ll have to fight against that. But generally speaking, unless you’re out running in gale-force winds, treadmill runners can adjust for that by adding a 1% grade to the climb on the treadmill.
Also, when you are running outside you can include other types of workouts such as stairs and downhill running. You can switch machines in the gym, but likely won’t be a smooth transition from the treadmill to the stair climber. And though you can do an uphill grade on a treadmill, it’s harder to do a downhill one. You could run the opposite direction on the treadmill with a gradient of several degrees, but it won’t be as safe doing so. The other option is to add lifts at the back of the treadmill creating a downhill slope.
There are also some places that will work muscles differently outdoors. Try running on soft sand and you’ll soon realize that your legs, as well as your heart, need to work harder to cover any distance. Not everyone has a beach handy for running, though, and while soft sand may provide a deeper workout, hard concrete allows no cushion so can create more jarring to the knees, hips, back, and other parts of the body.
For those training for marathons or other distance running, there are also advantages and disadvantages for each. Here are a few things to consider in that regard.
Outdoors. You can establish several courses that travel different distances, put on your tunes or otherwise, and get running. You’ll get the visual cues and figure out how to pace yourself for the distance you travel that day, as well as the distance you’ll be traveling in races. You’ll also develop skills and tools for running in different types of weather conditions.
But when outdoors, if you have your tunes in, make sure you are in a safe place for that. Tuning out the sounds of the world around you may also tune out vital information such as traffic or someone following you. Running in wet or slippery conditions may help your body adjust to different situations, but it is also riskier. It has been observed for many years that sporting events in wet conditions tend to have higher incidents of injuries to the muscles. Wet weather can loosen the muscles, making it easier to over-extend or cause muscle strain.
Treadmill. Some things to consider while training on a treadmill include having easy access to water or goo while on the treadmill. Making it possible to run while grabbing liquids, or a snack. Doing so while training outside means you’ll have to carry those with you, and probably have to retrieve them from a pack or open them, much more difficult to do while still running. Of course, there’s always situations when running outside just isn’t an option. Really bad weather, or locations where it isn’t safe. You probably won’t encounter this, but for those on the international space station, treadmills are one of the few options available to them.
Many treadmills have lots of options to give you a variety of scenery, as well as well-known courses. If you are training for the Boston or New York marathon, you might find those courses loaded into your gym’s treadmill. However, on a treadmill, you don’t have to set your pace, it’s pre-programmed, or you simply change speed, and your body adjusts.
Many runners just get a deeper satisfaction out of running outdoors, find it more stimulating, and the fresh air can do wonders to clear the brain. That’s if there is fresh air. Pollution of all types can make that difficult at times and switching to a treadmill may just be a better bet for long-term health if you live where air quality is often compromised. If you have allergies, during certain times of the year, treadmills can also be your friend, allowing you to leave pollen and dust behind.
Despite the great outdoors being a place many love to run, others much prefer time on the treadmill. It just suits them better. Many like to get on the treadmill and watch their favorite shows on television or the DVR. They can get caught up in the story and not spend their time thinking, “When is this going to hit five miles already?”
The bottom line is that both outdoors and the treadmill offer advantages and disadvantages. Using both can keep your body better adjusted if you compete in races, but if you are running for health or exercise alone, the best option is the one that keeps you coming back for more.
In either case, before you start your run, make sure you get some Sheer Strength Pre-Workout so your body is fueled and energized for the run. It also makes it easier to keep going longer when you are training for distances.