Treadmill Vs Outdoor Running – Which Is Better For Your Muscles?

Which is better for your muscles, treadmill or outdoor running?

Running on a treadmill and outdoors are both excellent for cardiovascular fitness. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks but running outdoors is better for your muscles overall and provides a better full-body workout.

Running is one of the greatest forms of exercise around. As an intense cardiovascular workout, it helps many people get fit and stay fit. It’s also great for building muscle strength, although they differ in terms of which muscle groups get used. Let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of running on a treadmill versus outside.

Running on a treadmill

First off, we’re going to talk about running on a treadmill. We’ll start with the benefits and then go into the drawbacks.

Benefits of running on a treadmill

The main benefits that come from running on a treadmill stem from the convenience factor. You can buy a treadmill and place it anywhere in your home and don’t need to leave the house to “go for a run”. Some treadmills are so lightweight and compact these days that you can even take them in the car with you if you go on vacation or a business trip too.

Using a treadmill at home or in a gym also comes with other conveniences and creature comforts. Inside spaces can be climate controlled which is especially important in areas that experience freezing winters and hot summers in regards to safety. Roads and pavements can get icy which is dangerous and runners can also get windburn or sunburn if they’re not careful.

Related: Best mineral-based sunscreens for runners

Other conveniences include having a bathroom, sweat towel, and hydration nearby. You can also have a TV to watch and play your favorite movie or show which can be a great distraction and help you run longer. Plus, you don’t have to carry anything while running, like your phone, keys, or water bottle.

There are also some benefits physically. Treadmills allow for easier access to hill training for those that don’t live near any by being able to adjust the incline. You can also practice pacing by setting a consistent speed. Treadmill belts assist with leg turnover too and the surface is easier on the knees, an important consideration for many runners given that joint pain is a common complaint.

Related: Why Do I Sweat So Much When I Run? How Much Is Too Much Sweat?

Drawbacks of running on a treadmill

While there are many benefits, there are also drawbacks to running inside on a treadmill. Some people find it boring especially if they don’t have a TV nearby or prefer listening to music when running but there’s no visual stimulation. There is also no physical perception of running in your mind and accomplishment felt by reaching the next tree, block, or benchmark.

Related: Is Running On A Treadmill Physically Bad For You?

From a health perspective, it means you miss out on vitamin D from sunlight and the general wellbeing that is gained from being outdoors. There is also less muscle activation due to running on the same surface. While you can adjust the incline, usually it won’t mimic downhill running. You might need to use more of an upward incline to run the same conditions as road running too.

Related: 12 Health Benefits Of Running You Shouldn’t Ignore!

Running outdoors

For some people, there is nothing that beats running outdoors and the rewards it brings. Of course, it also has its share of drawbacks, most of which make up the benefits of using a treadmill. Let’s take a look at both.

Benefits of running outdoors

One of the greatest benefits of running outdoors is being outside. Whether you live near a beautiful landscape or in a bustling city, there are many positive mental gains from getting outside. You also feel more achievement because your mind notes that you are moving and you can set yourself targets to reach as you run to keep you motivated.

It gives your eyes something to look at, so is naturally more stimulating, and boosts your overall mood by being outdoors. What’s more, you can explore new routes so you don’t get bored. You can also run in groups which helps with motivation and makes it more challenging. Plus, you don’t have to worry about cleaning up your sweat outside!

There can be many physical and health advantages too. Runners experience increased proprioception outdoors. This is the natural ability to run without worry and it helps reduce the risk of injury. It can be physically more demanding, making for a better workout. Your muscle and muscle fibers are worked more, plus they are continuously making fine adjustments when running outdoors.

You can also make it more or less challenging by varying the terrains you run on, for example, narrow trails up a hill versus flat sidewalk. Depending on where you live, you could vary it each day. It also provides more surface area airflow against the body, giving resistance you otherwise wouldn’t get while using a treadmill.

Drawbacks of running outdoors

The main drawbacks for running outdoors come from the climate and the lack of control you have over it. You can’t help the weather so may have to contend with the sun, rain, wind, snow, and other elements. If you don’t live near any hills you would have to search for them to perform hill training too.

From a practical side, bathrooms might not be close by, so for long runs especially this could determine the route you take. It might also be less safe at night due to poorer visibility and the possibility of an accident with a vehicle or objects on the path, and dangerous neighborhoods could pose more of a physical risk at night.

Is treadmill or outdoor running better for your muscles?

We’ve talked about the many benefits and drawbacks but there’s one more important question about treadmill vs outdoor running – which is better for your muscles?

A treadmill can never imitate running outside 100%. That’s because when you run outdoors you push yourself forward, whereas a treadmill will pull you forward. Outdoors surfaces will give your body a better workout if that’s what you’re looking for.

Related: 10 Tips For Making Treadmill Running Easier?

Why is it better?

Outdoors is better due to the reasons we talked about earlier around the variety of the terrain. You can make it much more challenging and change your route as regularly as you want (that is possible around your home). Running outdoors will also activate different muscles than a treadmill. It’s just not possible for a treadmill to mimic running up a rocky trail and then having to run down.

Having to navigate obstacles when running outside requires more control and uses more muscle groups. When you are running on a treadmill it is a linear motion and repetitive. There is usually no chance to run “downhill” either.

Which muscles are activated more when running outside?

The muscles which are activated more when you run outside include:

What’s the verdict?

While both have their advantages nothing beats running outdoors and breathing in the fresh air. It provides more versatility and diversity in the terrains crossed. This activates more muscle groups than running on a treadmill can allow for. It also means a more full-body workout by bringing in the upper body as well as the legs and core. For many, it’s a much more enjoyable activity overall too.

Related: Can I Train For A Half Marathon On A Treadmill?

Coach Scott's Credentials: He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 17th half marathon race. 

 To sign up for a FREE half marathon training schedule, log sheet, and pace predictor CLICK HERE.

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