Running On A Treadmill VS Outside – Which Is Better Cardio

It seems that the question of what is better for quality cardio – running on a treadmill or outside – still stirs many minds.

Right away, I should note that there is one popular argument against running – the high load on the joints and tendons due to impact. You cannot argue with this, but we should not forget that running is natural for humans just like walking.

The impacts of running may get especially dangerous if you are overweight. No matter how strong your bones and joints are, if you are heavy, you are exerting a lot of force onto your body while running.

I myself am 55, and running is a challenge for me no matter what. Furthermore, after quitting smoking 10 years ago, I suddenly gained weight. This extra weight became a huge hindrance – it was difficult for me to walk, stand, and even sit.

You cannot even think about running in such a state, though running does appear to be the best way of losing weight. A vicious circle, isn’t it?

I somewhat resolved my condition with strength training, gradually building up muscle mass and strength. I did not lose much weight, but I must have lost fat mass, and the comfort and quality of my life have drastically improved.

I still can’t comfortably and safely run, but at least I feel better.

So with strength training, from some point on, you may feel that you can cover considerable distances on foot without much physical discomfort, pain in the legs, or back.

But you can’t only do strength training – for me, it isn’t enough to keep my body agile. Prolonged sitting makes me stiff, and the best tool against this, for me, has been outdoor walking and some very light running.

So you should incorporate some form of cardio in your workout. But which one? Read on to find out my perspective on this issue!

Running On A Treadmill

In previous articles, we have detailed the benefits of the treadmill and even compared it to other cardio machines – elliptical trainers or exercise bikes. So give those a read if you are interested in cardio machines.

As for the classical treadmill, it, among other things, can simulate steep inclines via track angle adjustment. Even a slight elevation of the treadmill track – for example, 3 degrees up – during a 15-20-minute workout will burn a lot of additional calories.

If an added incline is too much for your body, then you may instead opt for a flat track at a higher speed.

In addition to cardio workouts, with good loads, a treadmill can be a good tool for rehabilitation.

If there is no suitable jogging area in your vicinity, a treadmill is the only way to do cardio too. Likewise, if you have a treadmill, you won’t have to skip outdoor running sessions due to bad weather.

If your fitness motivation is weak, then a treadmill conveniently placed in your living room will also make for a more attractive workout than outdoor running.

No matter whether indoors or outdoors, it might be a good idea to get a running shoe that also cushions the impact of the surface while running. Additionally, you might consider knee braces – these might support your knees and reduce existing pain.

Running Outdoors

I will say right away that I am a fan of outdoor walks and also prefer to do cardio workouts on rough terrain. However, it should be noted that this preference has its own, subjective reasons.

Not far from my home is a large park with convenient walking and jogging paths. A little further is a steep staircase of 600 steps with an inclination of about 30 degrees. And to reach the staircase, I have to first cover about a mile of a probably 20-degree decline too.

So, if I decided to go down the staircase, I would have to go back up and plus overcome the steep incline to get back home. This is a pretty serious cardio load. But it is precisely loads like these that allow you to burn a lot of calories.

A separate point to note is that the descent itself is also a certain cardio load, especially if it is steep enough. Moreover, you cannot decline the track on a treadmill, so this aspect of outdoor training won’t be accessible to you.

Outdoor walking may be more beneficial for joint strength and coordination too. The treadmill has very little cushioning (though this depends on the treadmill), while my nearby park track is primarily a hard surface with natural unevenness.

At first glance, a hard surface puts an additional load on your joints. And that’s indeed true, but walking on a rough surface might have its own benefits. More demanding on your flexibility and coordination, outdoor running is an overall better workout than treadmill running.

With that said, this only applies if you have healthy joints and good footwear to safely run or walk outdoors. Otherwise, the possible benefits of outdoor workouts do not compensate for the risks.

Another thing in favor of outdoor training is air quality. If you have poor ventilation indoors, then cardio workouts might not be the most pleasant experience for you. Though if the outdoor air in your area is polluted, this may not apply to your case.

Final Words

For many people, having a treadmill at home is going to be the more preferable option. You don’t have to go outdoors, you don’t have to get wet under rain or hot under the sun, and you can hop right into the shower after cardio.

A treadmill would also be a preferable choice if there are no convenient running or walking areas nearby.

Running outdoors also has its pluses. The charm of open air is undeniable, and you might also be able to make use of the natural features of the outside terrain. Communication with other runners can be nice too!

But in the end, what style of cardio to choose depends on your preferences and available amenities.

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