August 14, 2010

Treadmill Running vs. Outdoor Running

Running is generally a solitary pursuit but one that is quite popular as a means of stress relief and weight loss. It is used by a wide array of people for various reasons. For some, running is a key element in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, others use running to cope with stress and other damaging mental stimuli. The environment in which one exercises can be very instrumental in determining the realized benefits of a run. Indoor treadmills may be utilized by those looking for a predictable and user controlled running experience.

There may come a time in the life of any runner where they are faced with the decision of treadmill running vs. outdoor running. While this does not have to be an irreversible decision, there are significant differences in not only the method but also the goals and benefits of each:

    *Impact: Both exercise formats have some degree of impact. The road has a far higher impact level than a treadmill, yet a grass surface cushions the degree of impact more so than a standard treadmill. If you perform a lot of running, you will want to be wary of the degree of impact that your body encounters, otherwise your joints will inevitably sustain long-term damage as a consequence.

    * Effectiveness: The treadmill belt offers some help by pulling your feet back underneath your body, so you are potentially exerting less energy to move your feet and legs than if you were not on a treadmill. But both outdoor running and the treadmill can be as effective as each other. Effectiveness really comes down to your overall exercise and nutritional regime. Often the best indicator of the effectiveness of a particular exercise is how much you enjoy it. Think about it, if you don't enjoy running outdoors, then you're probably not going to stick to a consistent regime. Additionally, you won't put in the same amount of effort as if you really loved running outside!

    *Wind Resistance: When you run indoors on a treadmill, you do not have to overcome wind resistance. The lack of wind means you'll spend less energy running 5 kilometers on a treadmill than you will running 5 kilometers outdoors. However, it may depend on how fast you are running. For the average person, running 8 - 14 kilometers per hour (kmph) will result in little difference. Some studies say outdoor running expends up to 5 percent more calories; if you run faster than 14 kmph, running outdoors could utilize up to 10 percent more calories because you are working harder against wind resistance. To make your treadmill workout closer to outdoor exercise, simply raise the treadmill incline to 1% and you will expend as many calories as if you were walking or running on flat pavement outdoors.

    *Accessibility: A run outdoors is certainly convenient. Put on your running shoes and away you go. But there could be many problems associated with outdoor running. One problem may be that you live in the middle of the city where it's completely flat and overly crowded. Another may be that you don't feel comfortable running outside in the dark after work. The major benefit with the treadmill is that you can run without having to dodge people and adjust the hill settings as you see fit. The drawback is that, unless you have a treadmill available at home, you will have to make your way to the gym and possibly even wait for the machine (probable during peak hour at the gym).

    *Propelling Your Body: The main difference between treadmill running and outdoor running lies in how your legs have to carry your upper body.

      Outdoor running, your leg muscles mostly work on propelling you forward. Treadmill running, because the belt is moving under you, your leg muscles mostly work at re-positioning your legs to keep you stable. This affects how much work your individual leg muscles need to do.

      Treadmill running, the rearward moving belt decreases the need to pull your upper body forward and so requires less work from your hamstrings than outdoor running. However, your hip flexors (right at the top-front of each leg) have to work harder to provide stability as your planted foot is dragged back (literally) under your body.

    *Measurable results: If you are running around outdoors you usually do not have any way to measure if you are achieving your goals and increasing your fitness. You may time yourself, but many factors can influence the time it takes you to complete your circuit, including the weather and traffic or walkers getting in your way. On a treadmill you have many ways to measure your progress including specially designed instruments.

      You can track calories burned, distance, incline and speed. By keeping track of this information you will be able to match or exceed your previous workout.

    *Weather: One of the greatest advantages of having a treadmill is that you can walk or run in any kind of weather. Rain, snow, ice, it doesn't matter, and you can run through a heatwave too. In your heated and air conditioned home you can always exercise at the perfect temperature. Also most treadmills now have on board cooling fans which helps keep you cooler in addition to the cooling of your home or apartment.

    *Convenience: If you have a treadmill you can use it whenever you have a free moment. You do not have to get to the park first. All adults in the family can use it too, and you may find that family members who would not normally take any exercise are motivated by having a well equipped home gym.

      You also don't have to worry about missing your favorite TV, special on TV or the latest award show as you can watch TV while you are on the treadmill. Some treadmills now have built in TV's in their consoles. They also have built in speakers so that you can listen to your ipod of Mp3 player.

    *Safety: Have you ever been in a gym and heard a "thud", only to see that someone has fallen off the treadmill? It's not an uncommon occurrence! Some people just cannot get the hang of a treadmill, so if you fall into this category, it may be wise to find an alternative.

      For women safety can be a big issue, but men too can be at risk of muggings or other attacks when running in the park or on the street. Even in the best neighborhoods a circular route will usually take you through some dark or lonely places, and even though you probably try to be out when there are other runners, you will find yourself running alone sometimes. Even if you live in a safe neighborhood, you do have to be on the lookout for loose dogs, and pot holes.

    * Cost: This one doesn't need any explanation. Even a used treadmill is going to cost you more than running around your local park.

    *Space in the home: If you have a large home this will not bother you, but if you live in a tiny apartment you may not have a lot of space for home gym equipment like a treadmill. Keep in mind though that you can get foldaway treadmills for easy storage.

    *Fresh air: Running outside gets you into the fresh air. So it's likely to be better for your lungs than exercising indoors, even if you have all of the windows open. To get around this you could put your treadmill in the backyard in good weather.

    *Privacy: While some people love to strut their perfect physique around the park, for most of us there are advantages in not having the world watching us run! At home it doesn't matter what you wear, whether you sweat or how much you weigh. Just lock the door and nobody is going to see.

If you are training for an outdoor walking or running event, it is fine to do part of your training on the treadmill, but try to do at least 60% of it outdoors. By training outdoors, you will be much more prepared for the demands on your muscles and joints, the weather and the varied terrain. Additionally, the treadmill doesn't have any way to simulate downhill running, which is important if you are running an event that has varied terrain. Similarly, there aren't turn on a treadmill, which is another thing your body needs to adapt to if you plan to run outside.

To wrap this all up, we can say that treadmill running with distraction (people, tv, music) is going to feel easiest and require slightly less energy. Outdoor running with no music is going to feel hardest, but you will benefit from expending more energy (and likely burning more calories).

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