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Treadmill Running
Treadmill Running vs Road Running

Is there a big difference between treadmill running and road running? We all know the benefits of using running to help with weight loss but does where you run make a difference? WLR's personal trainer, Nicola Glanville PTI REP takes a look at both forms of exercise

Treadmill Running versus Road Running

By WLR's personal trainer, Nicola Glanville PTI REP

There is no doubt about it, running is one of the best forms of exercise.  Just in case you need reminding, here are some of the benefits of running: 

Benefits of Running

  • Increases bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis
  • Strengthens and tones the leg and core muscles
  • Improves cardiovascular health, reducing risk of heart disease
  • Assists in reducing body fat percentage
  • Improves circulation
  • Aids the digestive process
  • Improves immune function
  • Improves mood and reduces stress by releasing endorphins in the brain

But where should you do it, inside or out?  The availability of treadmills means that we can exercise at vigorous intensities without leaving the comfort of our own home.  However, the quality of treadmill training compared to hitting the road is a contentious issue.  So which is best, treadmill or track? 

Road Running

I love to run outside.  Well ok, once I have grumbled and made excuses and finally talked myself into getting up and putting my trainers on, then I love to run outside.  

Variable Routes

A great thing about road running is that you have an endless number of routes to choose from.  Obviously some will be better than others, but you may like to do different routes depending on your mood that day.  When I’m running outside I prefer circular routes that mean I am always running towards my end destination, rather than a linear route that means you have to run back on yourself.

Top Tip:  If you want to continue to improve your fitness and burn an optimum number of calories you should change your route regularly to prevent your body from getting used to your routine.

Variable Surfaces

Running outside offers more unpredictable surfaces than running on a treadmill.  This has the added benefit of challenging your balance and coordination.  On uneven terrain you have to work hard to counter balance that crack in the pavement or mound in a field. 

  • Roads and pavements are relatively predictable surfaces.  If you are a beginner or are running in low light conditions these surfaces are probably the safest.  Ensure that you are mindful of traffic and have dressed in high visibility clothing.

Top Tip: If you can, stay on the pavements.  If you are on the road swap sides depending on sight lines. It is important to read the road ahead and keep positioning yourself to give the best sight-line to you for any car drivers approaching.

  • Cross country routes can be unpredictable and will challenge your balance and coordination thereby strengthening your joints and muscles.  More predictable cross country routes are ideal for post injury rehabilitation and those who are prone to injuries as running on soft surfaces such as grass and tracks reduce the impact of running on your joints.        
  • Sand is a very testing surface to run on as it is difficult to push yourself forwards.  The softer the sand the harder the run.  Sand is great for a really challenging work out.  It will test your endurance and burn lots of calories.

Functionality

Running is a practical way of exercising and our bodies are designed for this form of activity.  It can be very satisfying to travel from A to B using nothing but your own steam. 

Top Tip: To increase your sense of achievement why not combine a run with other activities i.e. jog with your dog, run to the post box, jog with friends.

Weather Conditions

When you want to run outside, the weather is often the deciding factor.  A few drops of rain, a grey cloud or maybe just the mention of precipitation somewhere in the British Isles by a weather man can have you cancelling your planned outing.

Living in the UK means that if jogging outside is your chosen method of exercising you have to toughen up and get out into the elements.

For exercise to be effective you have to do it regularly; once a week is not enough.  Jogging in the elements can be invigorating.  Your sense of achievement increases the greater the challenge that you have overcome. 

Top Tip: Always ensure that you are dressed for the elements.

Cost

One of the main advantages of running outside is that once you’ve got a comfortable pair of trainers it is free.  There is obviously the option to introduce running accessories if you wish, but it is a lot cheaper than joining a gym or buying a treadmill.

Escapism

These days there are very few ways left of getting away from it all.  Mobile phones and laptops mean that we are connected to everyone all of the time.  And not negating the obvious benefits of such an extensive system of communication, sometimes it’s good to get away from your boss, your mum and yes sometimes even your better half!

Availability

We are all fantastic at making excuses about why we can’t possibly exercise today, but running outside requires little more than 20 to 30 minutes and a smidgen of motivation to get you out of the front door.  It is the simplest way to exercise and therefore it is easy to do it regularly.

Treadmill Running

Constant Environment

Although some may see this as a disadvantage, the treadmill offers a constant environment in which to exercise.  Whether you are in the gym or your living room, the temperature, humidity and running surface remain the same.

In this respect the treadmill could be considered a more comfortable form of exercise than running outside.  You don’t have to consider the weather, light levels or traffic.  Once you are on the treadmill there are minimal external factors to interfere with your work out.

Pace

The treadmill enables a runner to set a pace and to maintain it.  This is useful if you are training for a specific event.  It is also helpful to keep you going when your determination is waning.

On a treadmill you have to make a conscious decision and press a button to slow yourself down, whereas outside you might reduce your pace in response to fatigue without even realising it.

Variety

Most treadmills have different profiles that you choose from depending on your goal:

Manual Profile

As the name suggests, this profile allows you to manage your own work out.  Treadmills are very versatile; unlike the great outdoors you can create your own terrain depending on what you are trying to achieve.  For example if you want to burn calories you could increase the gradient of the treadmill.  The information in the table below is from the running website and represents an individual weighing 10 stone.

Treadmill speed Time Incline Calories Burnt
6mph 30mins 0 340.4
6mph 30mins 1 354.2
6mph 30mins 2 368
6mph 30mins 3 381.8
6mph 30mins 4 395.6
6mph 30mins 5 409.4

Hill Profile

This setting gives you a variety of hill profiles to choose from and automatically adjusts the incline of the treadmill accordingly.  Running on hills is more challenging and will ultimately improve your fitness and burn more calories in the process.

Fat Burning Profile

This profile is typically designed to ensure that you keep your pulse between 50 to 65% of your maximum heart rate (MHR) to burn an optimum number of calories from fat.

To do this you need to use a heart rate monitor (link to: scales-monitors/heart-rate-monitors.htm) so that the treadmill can regulate your speed and gradient to get you into your target heart rate zone.

Top Tip: Although you will burn more fat calories by working at 50 – 65% of your MHR you are not burning an optimum number of total calories.  If you want to burn maximum calories and achieve optimum weight loss you should aim to maintain 65 – 85% MHR.

Cardiovascular Profile

This setting is aimed at improving your heart and lung function. It requires the use of a heart rate monitor and chest strap.  Once the treadmill is receiving your heart rate it regulates the intensity of the workout to maintain your heart rate at 65 – 85% of your MHR.  Working at this level will burn an optimum number of calories and assist with weight loss.

Less Impact on Joints

Running on the treadmill is easier on the joints than running on roads or concrete pavements.  If you run regularly, including some treadmill workouts will reduce the impact on your joints and may reduce the risk of injury.  If you are recovering from an injury or have problems with your joints, a treadmill offers a way to gradually build up your training.  

Information Displays

I enjoy running on a treadmill because it easy to monitor your progress with the speed, distance and calorie displays. Although the accuracy of this information may be challenged, it motivates me to see the figures increasing as I sweat and pant my way through a session.

Treadmill Running versus Road Running: The Question of Calories

Although there are many different opinions on the merits of running on roads versus a treadmill, there is a general consensus amongst fitness professionals that more calories are burnt running outside than on a treadmill.

The number of calories you burn when exercising is determined by the intensity of your workout and therefore the rate of oxygen that you consume.  It is easier to cover distance on a treadmill than over ground; therefore, road running will require a greater rate of oxygen consumption and burn more calories.

The reasons that treadmill running is marginally less challenging than running outside are:

  • The real world isn’t as flat or as straight as a treadmill. 
  • If you are running outside you are moving forwards and have to combat wind resistance.  On a treadmill you run on the spot and wind resistance isn’t a factor. 
  • The rearward motion of the treadmill belt assists a runner with his rhythm and stride pattern, reducing the requirement to drive your weight forwards to cover ground. 

Therefore at a set speed over a comparable gradient you will burn more calories running over ground than on a treadmill.

However, if you want to burn a greater number of calories on a treadmill all you have to do is crank up the pace or increase your gradient.  To make up for the lack of wind resistance when running on a treadmill you can increase the gradient to a 1 degree incline.

The ability to increase the gradient on a treadmill means that you could burn more calories than outside; a run outside would comprise of down hills and flat terrain and you can’t create a hill outside by pressing a button!

Top Tip:  If calorie counting is important to you try using a heart rate monitor for all of your runs whether on a treadmill or outside.  Work out what heart rate level you can sustain (preferable between 65 – 85% of your MHR) and alter your speed or incline to maintain that intensity.

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Useful Links

42.195km.net Useful tools for Runners and Joggers

www.womensrunninguk.co.uk Women's Running, the UK's first lifestyle magazine for women of all ages and fitness levels who run or want to start.

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Start a Free Trial Today

Use the WLR Exercise Diary to track your progress and add any extra exercise calories to your daily quota. Chat to like-minded people on the WLR Runners message board. Try them free for 24 hours.

Take our FREE trial »

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