My daughter Maia, after seeing a photograph of a treadmill asked me just what was this strange piece of equipment?

I informed her that it was called a treadmill and people use them to run on. She looked at me, slightly confused. “Why do they run on that instead of outside?” she asked. I explained it was a bit easier if you were in a rush or the weather was bad. Still, a confused look “if it is raining then why don’t you do something else?” she asked “and then run outdoors when the rain has gone?” So I then explained that for some people, they felt they could run faster and cover more distance on a treadmill. Still a confused look “but how? Just run the faster and longer outdoors!”

Perhaps there is some truth in her words….as a physio and fitness fanatic, I love performing at my best and there is no doubt in my mind that I run better outdoors then I do on the conveyer belt.

In any given gym, the treadmills are always busy with people pounding away for over an hour. Quite often what the majority of these people need is less running and more strength specific work. Increase the capacity of your engine (your muscles) and you will run more effectively. If running is your goal….but…is it?!

When running on a treadmill the belt is moving under you, so unlike running outside there is no wind resistance for your body to counter, so it is slightly easier to run. When you run outdoors your legs have to propel your body forward while pushing through this wind resistance. However, research wise there is actually little to suggest there is a huge physiological difference between the two and by setting the treadmill to a 1% incline you can offset the lack of wind resistance.

The advantages to running outdoors is that it is more stimulating and good for the mind (mindful running anyone?). Treadmill running can get very boring and so it is easy to lower your effort. It is also difficult to learn to pace on a treadmill as it is easy to just punch in your settings and then forget to test your limits. The advantages of a treadmill are the convenience (particularly when the weather is bad) in terms of time, environment and grabbing a drink.

Next time you think of getting on the treadmill, look outside and if it is a glorious day (or it just isn’t raining) then be brave and head outdoors! However, a combination of both treadmill and outdoor running will no doubt allow for increased commitment to a specific running programme.


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