Runners vary in their preferences—some relish the outdoors, while others opt for the controlled environment of a treadmill. Each has its pros and cons, ultimately boiling down to personal choice, but there are factors worth considering.
Nothing quite compares to the exhilaration of outdoor running, inhaling fresh air as you cover miles. However, unpredictable weather can swiftly transform this joy into a struggle, prompting a retreat to the indoor haven of a treadmill. Both options hold value in a workout routine.
The burning question: does running outside trump treadmill sessions in calorie expenditure? Studies comparing the two reveal a common trend. Due to factors like stride, forward motion, muscle engagement, and oxygen consumption, outdoor running tends to burn 5–7% more calories than its treadmill counterpart.
On the flip side, some argue that the controlled setting of a treadmill allows precise control over calorie burn, enabling you to tailor your workout to specific goals—whether burning more or less.
Do You Lose More Calories Running Outside or on a Treadmill? Why?
Studies have been done comparing treadmill running with the same activity outdoors. The most common finding is that due to: stride, forward motion, muscle activity, and oxygen consumption, more calories are burnt outside than in. (Source)
1. The Treadmill Belt
There’s no denying that a treadmill belt helps propel you forward. Outside you don’t have this added assistance and must rely on your own power to keep moving. As it’s slightly easier to stay in motion once you get started, muscle activity is reduced by running this way.
On a treadmill, your stride is restricted to the length of the machine and may not feel as comfortable or may restrict your actual capability.
Maintaining the ideal stride for you contributes to a more effective workout and, in the end, burns more calories.
2. Oxygen Consumption
The most significant difference between running outside or on a treadmill is oxygen consumption.
If a set distance is your goal, it’s generally easier and faster to achieve that with the assistance of a treadmill.
Outdoors you have to work harder as you’re moving entirely under your own steam while dealing with uneven terrain and other obstacles.
All this extra performance increases your heart rate, so you take in more oxygen and ultimately burn more calories.
Is Running Outside More Effective Than on a Treadmill?
The treadmill vs. outdoor running debate is a fascinating one. When it comes down to which is more effective, the answer is the one that works best for the individual.
What do I mean by that? Consider this,
You’ll run further and faster and burn more calories if you’re doing something you enjoy. Regarding personal preference, some love the freedom of the outdoors, and others like the controlled environment a treadmill provides.
Let’s look at the merits of both outdoor and indoor running:
Those who love running outside have very valid reasons. For starters, being ‘”at one with nature” has proven physical and mental health benefits. A study in 2016 discovered that just 30 minutes a week spent in a park or a forest could reduce depression by up to 7%. (Source)
Physically, running outside over mixed terrain not only consumes more oxygen but it helps build up stronger bones and legs. This bone and muscle development is essential if you need extra power to win an event.
Unless you live in a heavily polluted city, running outside gives you access to clean, fresh air. In a gym or a workout area of your house, artificial air is most likely what you’ll be breathing in as you work out. If your treadmill is in a room with other people, you share the same oxygen; for some, this is really unpleasant.
For some, running on a fixed spot, in an enclosed area, for an increased amount of time becomes tedious very quickly. Sure, some of the latest state-of-the-art treadmills have built-in TV screens.
You can enjoy an episode or two of your favorite Netflix show while clocking up some decent mileage, but it’s not the same as having an ever-changing view.
Running outdoors can be done at any time (weather permitting). No matter if you’re at home or away on a trip, there’s not much stopping you from going for a run.
Once you’ve bought your shirt, shorts, and shoes, the great outdoors is free. Not so with a treadmill. Whether you buy one outright or pay regular gym fees, in the end, it’s a lot more expensive.
On the other hand, running inside also has its merit.
For some, the controlled conditions where you set your pace, time, and distance at the beginning, then just run, can’t be beaten.
There’s something to be gained from a ‘set and forget’ run. No need to keep checking your sports watch, just find that comfortable stride and go for it.
While running in a light rain can be beneficial, a torrential downpour can ruin the experience completely.
Let’s face it; the world isn’t flat, and you’re running on uneven ground outside most of the time. Ankles and knees can get sprained or jarred by one false step. Most modern treadmill belts are designed to absorb some of your footfall impacts, making injuries like this much less likely.
If you have access to a treadmill, it’s a quick, convenient way to get a run in, primarily if the outdoor area where you are doesn’t provide an ideal environment.
Is Running on a Treadmill Good for Weight Loss? Treadmill Slope Impact
Weight loss can be achieved by running for a set period of time, at a continuous pace, and at the same intensity. Running on a treadmill is ideal for this, but you need to be prepared to work with inclines. A standard forward movement at a zero gradient won’t increase your heart rate as much as running outdoors will. (Source)
There is a solution. Take an average runner, weighing around ten stone and running for 30 minutes at 6mph. At a zero incline, they’d burn just over 340 calories. Increase that to an incline of 5, and the result is almost 410 calories.
Breaking it down to increments of 1, it would like like this:
|Total Calories Burned
If you’re prepared to increase the incline level on the treadmill, you’ll notice the difference in fat burning very quickly.
You can burn all the calories you want, either running outdoors or inside on a treadmill. In the end, it comes down to which environment you’re going to do the most exercise in.
If like me, you love getting outdoors and can run until you can’t move, then that’s your best choice.
For those of you who prefer the controlled environment on a treadmill and can run a half to a full marathon in those conditions, go for it. Watch the calories burn either way.
We also recommend that you check out our post Is Slow Jogging Good For Weight Loss? How Long You Need To Jog!