Treadmill Vs. Outdoor Running: Which is Best?

Running provides wonderful health benefits, inside or out. It strengthens muscles, improves cardiovascular fitness, burns calories, helps maintain a healthy weight and research even shows it can increase bone mass.

Whether you run recreationally or competitively, weather conditions may decide which surface you run on – treadmill or outdoors. But, is one surface better than the other? Which gives you a better workout? Does one lead to more injuries?

Let’s take a look at the similarities:

  • The motion of your ankles, hips and knees are similar on either surface. Neither increases your risk of injury to these joints.
  • Energy expended is about the same: both surfaces give you an equal cardiovascular workout. But when you run outside, wind resistance and uphill climbs can make your muscles work harder.

And the differences:

  • The treadmill is repetitive and each step is the same. Outdoors you have to adapt to the terrain and slope as you run, so each step varies (this isn’t a good or bad thing, but if you run competitively take note).
  • When you get fatigued on a treadmill, your “flight time” increases (time when both feet are off the belt), but your stride stays the same. When you get fatigued outdoors, your stride decreases (this isn’t a good or bad thing, but if you run competitively take note).
  • Treadmill running can put pressure on your feet differently, especially if you already have foot problems. If you have flat feet, plantar fasciitis, hammertoes or pain on the balls of your feet, the treadmill may be harder. But if you have bunions, arthritis or heel pain, it may be more comfortable since there is less impact on these areas of your foot on a treadmill.
  • Outdoor running can put more stress and strain on your legs, with the potential for stress fractures. But it can also strengthen your tibia (shinbone), which is good if you have osteoporosis or get shin splints.

Bottom Line:

Fresh air and scenery make running outside a more enjoyable experience. But the treadmill is a great way to stay in shape when weather conditions keep you inside. If you’re a casual runner with no foot problems, either surface is fine. But if you’re a competitive runner, it’s best to run outside unless the weather forces you inside.


Hanley, B, Mohan, A. Changes In Gait During Constant Pace Treadmill Running . Journal of Strength and Conditioning. In print.

Garcia-Perez, JA, Perez-Sorian, P, Llana, S, Martinez-Nova, A, and Sanchez-Zuriaga, D. Effect of Overground Running vs. Treadmill Running on Plantar Pressure: Influence of Fatigue. Gait and Posture. 38 (2013), 929-933.

Van Caekenberghe, I, Segers, V, Willems, P, Gosseye, T, Aerts, P, and De Clercq, D. Mechanics of overground accelerated running vs. running on an accelerated treadmill. Gait and Posture. 38 (2013), 125-131.

Meet the Author

Thurmond D. Lanier, DPM is a Podiatrist at Aurora Health Center in Fond du Lac, WI.

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The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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