5 Reasons to Run Outside Instead of on a Treadmill

Let me get this out of the way: treadmill running is better than sitting on the couch reading blogs that outline the reasons running outside is better than running on a treadmill. If it’s your only option – or even just the way you prefer to exercise — have at it. You have my blessing. The best exercise is the one you’ll do, remember. But there are limitations, risks, and biomechanical changes that occur when treadmill running. It’s not the same as running outside, and there’s evidence to suggest it might be worse in some respects.

So let’s explore the potential problems associated with treadmill running:

1. Running outside is more enjoyable.

This makes sense on an intuitive level, but there’s actually empirical evidence to suggest that outdoor running is more enjoyable than indoor running. A 2004 study out of Duke University found that when on treadmills, runners ran more slowly, reported higher rated perceived exertion (RPE), enjoyed themselves less, and experienced less satisfaction than runners doing their thing outside. And it’s that second part that’s really interesting: the higher RPE when running on a treadmill, even at objectively lower speeds. If an exercise is so boring that it becomes work and you don’t feel like you accomplished much after doing it, you are less likely to do that exercise. We are more likely to stick with a workout regimen if we enjoy it and derive intrinsic value. Running through nature or even around your hood as the sun goes down confers the enjoyability factor that’s just missing from most treadmill runs.

2. Treadmills are flat and linear and unchanging. The outside world is not.

Every little pebble, every half buried root, every slight dip and furrow and bump on the ground and elevation change must be addressed by the biomechanics of those who traverse it. And these slight variations happen subconsciously. Often, we don’t even realize we’re changing joint angles and altering muscle activation patterns in response to elevation or textural changes along the path. But our walking experience is characterized by thousands of these subtle reactions, and our bodies adapt to them. Thus, the trail runner travels in a well-rounded, highly-adaptable body, equally comfortable on tracks, fire roads, forest paths, and city streets. The exclusive treadmill runner is good at running on treadmills.

But it’s more than just adaptability to different terrains. The exposure to different terrains means no step is the same and the load is balanced and dispersed. On a treadmill, every step you run is the same as the last one. Nothing changes. Your foot lands in exactly the same place with exactly the same cushioning and your joints travel along the same path and receive the same stresses. This is a recipe for repetitive strain injuries. And although there’s very little data in the literature on treadmill runners and repetitive strain injuries, I’ve seen it happen in almost every heavy treadmill user I’ve known. Shin splints, IT band pain, the works.

3. Treadmills change the biomechanics of your run.

Several studies confirm this.

  • One study found that treadmill runners showed “significantly greater” peak eversion, eversion velocity, tibial internal rotation and tibial internal rotation velocity than overground runners, with the authors suggesting this could lead to chronic injuries.
  • Another found greater ankle eversion (rolling inward) in treadmill runners.
  • A 2013 study found major differences between accelerating on the treadmill and accelerating on the ground. On the ground, the runner accelerates and modifies his or her biomechanics to accommodate the acceleration. Power output from the hip joint increases and output from the knee decreases. On the treadmill, the ground accelerates and “virtually no kinesiological adaptations to an accelerating belt are observed.”
  • Treadmill runners have also been shown to take longer strides, altering their gaits to spend more time in the air and allow more of the treadmill to pass under. This technique, sadly, has poor applicability to overground running.

Still, is this a problem? Plenty of people use treadmills everyday seemingly without any major issues.

Even though a human body can technically perform many novel movements without apparent harm, be wary of altered movement patterns that persist. Consider the carpal tunnel from using a mouse and keyboard that develops over the course of many years. Consider the weakened glutes, tight calves, and tight hip flexors office workers often have. You can sit in a chair for a day, week, or even months on end and feel completely fine. It’s the sitting for years and decades that get to and prevent us from being able to squat comfortably or engage our glutes. I’m similarly suspicious of treadmill running, particularly with the subtle but significant kinematic changes observed. And because treadmill running is higher intensity than clicking a mouse or sitting at your desk, the negative effects — if they exist — likely accumulate much faster.

4. Treadmills don’t engage the posterior chain as much as running outside.

Runners typically generate the majority of their power with their posterior chains: the glutes and the hamstrings. It’s the hip extension, powered by the glutes and hamstrings, that propels the runner across the terrain. Since treadmill running cuts way back on peak hip extension, instead favoring hip flexion, the already sorely underdeveloped (from sitting and office work and generally sedentary living) posterior chain receives even less attention. Why engage the glute to bring your leg back and your body forward if the tread belt does it for you?

5. Treadmills are “easier.”

Running at the same speed on the treadmill requires less energy expenditure than running at the same speed outside. Seeing as how treadmill running feels harder, we think we’re working harder than we actually are. Less work and fewer results despite greater (perceived) effort? No thanks.

If you like to run on treadmills, there are some things you can do to mitigate any downsides.

Set an incline. This makes treadmill running a little more similar to road running by engaging more posterior chain. And one study found that treadmill running with a 1% grade effectively recreated the energetic cost of flat ground running.

Try self-powered manual treadmills. These are decent substitutes for ground running. They’re a little more posterior chain intensive than normal running, since you’re actually moving the mill.

Take breaks from the treadmill. Don’t run exclusively on the machine. Get outside for some runs, and be sure to throw in posterior chain strength work (Romanian deadlifts, kettlebell swings, hill sprints).

Listen to music, podcasts and/or audio books. On the few occasions that I go for a “run” these days, I always choose an interesting locale. The beach, the mountains, a new city (when traveling). Running in interesting environments becomes its own reward, and I never find I need a pair of headphones whisking me away to another place. The setting is its own entertainment. But a treadmill is stationary, usually in a gym. There’s not much going on worth watching, hearing, or smelling, and this is a big reason why treadmill runners rate their experiences as less satisfying and pleasurable; there’s neither intrinsic nor extrinsic value. So strap on a set of headphones (or earbuds), subscribe to a podcast or two, and give yourself more satisfaction and enjoyment each time you run.

Sprint. Some research (PDF) finds that the kinematic differences between treadmill running and overground running, while substantial, disappear at speeds higher than 6 m/s (13.4 mph). Sprinting just makes everything better, doesn’t it?

Again: I don’t mean to bash treadmills. They can certainly be helpful, and many successful athletes use them in their training. But very few of the top people are using treadmills exclusively. For any endurance athlete, the majority of the work is done on the road.

Enough from me. Let’s hear from you folks.

Do you use the treadmill? Does any of today’s post ring true to your experience? What differences do you notice between treadmill and road running?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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89 thoughts on “5 Reasons to Run Outside Instead of on a Treadmill”

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  1. In 3 years of running and 3 marathon training cycles I’ve never enjoyed treadmill running. It’s boring, it aggravates my shin splints, and it does feel FAR easier than outdoor running.

  2. Great post. I could never stand cardio machines. They always felt unnatural to me. Give me a trail, a track, a bike, or a trampoline any day!

    1. Trampoline; wow I haven’t done that in years! Those are such fun!

  3. What about treadmill walking? I’m toying with the idea of buying a treadmill so I could walk while reading a book. I was planning for an hour a day of treadmill walking while reading… Any research on walking?!?

    1. I say save your money, and just walk outside with earphones and an audio book instead.

    2. Probably a similar situation but it’s better than sitting and reading a book. Probably less dangerous than walking on a road or trail while reading. You have to see where you are going after all.

      I personally thought about treadmill desks when I read this post and dismissed the negatives for the same reason. Better to be walking and working than sitting and working.

    3. Personal anecdote: I found that walking on a treadmill for long periods of time (30 minutes or more) caused great pain (not soreness – PAIN) in my shins to the point where just walking around was difficult the next day. However, walking outside, even up and down hills, causes me zero pain, even pregnant.

    4. I’d recommend trying it before you buy. I love reading but can’t do it on a treadmill – something about focusing on the page while moving makes me queasy. (No problem on stationary bikes, though.) Lots of people don’t have this problem, of course, but treadmills aren’t cheap so it can’t hurt to be sure first. Otherwise, ramble on!

      1. Everyone’s circumstances are different, so I am not judging anyone who wants to read while on a treadmill, but I’d say the healthiest thing to do while reading is indeed to sit or lay down, so that you can focus your attention on what you are doing–reading. Mindfulness is, in itself, health-promoting, while dividing your attention is inherently unhealthy.

        I think doing exercise should be approached with the same focus. When you are running, you are running. When you are walking, you are walking. Not that you aren’t engaged in your immediate surroundings (exploring, noticing things, etc.); engaging in the surroundings is part of running.

        If you have to zone out while exercising, whether through reading, or even listening to music, I’d say the exercise in question should be rethought. Maybe don’t walk for exercise if you don’t like it–try a dance class, or swimming, etc. etc.

        1. I agree with this generally. Walking seems to me to be a very natural state of being for humans. I’ve been fortunate to live in places where there is abundant beautiful space for walking. Not only are you getting exercise, but you are reviving yourself entirely.

        2. +1! Music would, however, be an exception for me, in that in can enhance, rather than distract from, the experience.

          And while it’s good to be aware of the difference between treadmills and the ground as running surfaces, for those of us not living in California treadmills are certainly a wonderful, wonderful blessing!

    5. I would rather walk outside, but in my neck of the woods the snow and ice plus cold are just not safe. Plus it gets dark very early in the winter. I used to walk outside all year but as a woman in my late 60’s, I just don’t want to risk a fall or other risks living in the country. Then I use the treadmill at my gym. I listen to books or prop my ipad with an ebook and the time I walk goes very very fast. Great for the inevitable boredom of the treadmill and I don’t like to watch the TV attached to the gym treadmill either. I don’t crank up the incline much as walking or running on the treadmill with higher inclines are not good for knees. There is research on that.

  4. I really hate running and I normally can’t force myself to run outside. I do feel running is pretty important to be able to do so I try to go on the treadmill while I’m at the gym. I absolutely love weightlifting so as long as I’m in a good mental space from the lifts I just hop on and log a mile or 2.

    1. The only place I ever really enjoyed running was on the beach. The environment one likes is very important, whether indoors or outdoors.

  5. And treadmills kill. And maim. According to a CNN article about the death of Dave Goldberg, 24,000 people are injured every year on treadmills. I have found that it’s very easy to get on, turn on the TV, turn off your brain, and get out of rhythm. I’ve stumbled myself. Here is info on the number of injuries: https://www.cpsc.gov/en/Research–Statistics/NEISS-Injury-Data/

    Now I don’t know how many people are injured or killed running outside, but I can’t believe that it’s nearly that many.

    1. More people are injured running outside. About 70%, according to both physical rehabilitation docs and Runners World.

    1. Probably. It’s rare that you are ever pedaling on a completely flat and smooth terrain. Then think of all the core muscles involved in proper form on the bike and the firing of muscles to maintain balance. Then there is the brain factor. Not only do you get stimulation from the scenery you are riding through I imagine you get a good brain workout with a lot of the decision making that goes on on a ride.

      1. Exactly… you have to balance yourself on a bike, even if you have been riding all your life and do it unconsciously. A stationary bike is not going to fall over and you don’t need to engage any cor or helper muscles like you do on a real bike. Even if you ride on perfectly flat, smooth and even surface, you are still having to maintain your balance. Not to say a staionary bike is not good exercise or bad, but it is like the difference between lifting bodyweight or free weights vs a machine.

  6. Running on a treadmill always seems like WORK to me whereas running outside makes me feel more energetic and youthful. I feel like a kid. I not only run, but try to balance on the curb, jump over obstacles, sprint against myself, or a running partner, and, quite frankly, play more. Besides, it stinks in my gym.

    1. Just being outside makes me feel more energetic regardless of what I am doing. I imagine sun exposure and the decrease in air pollution and an increase in oxygen probably has something to do with it too.

  7. I’ve been a runner for a long time and I’ve done it all. I’ve run more miles than I care to count on the dreadmill over some harsh winters in Boston. I typically suffer more hip pain if I’m running several days per week on the mill and as I’ve gotten older I’ve relied on spinning classes and core work as alternate workouts to the treadmill when the weather doesn’t allow me to get outside. I think this has saved me from injury in recent years. My strategies to combat the boredom and repetition of movement are to do speed work (intervals, sprints) and hills. I hate hill repeats outside and I definitely do more of them in the winter because I tend to like them more on the mill, so I see this as an advantage. Any kind of workout where you’re changing what you do every 2, 3 or 4 min will go by faster than just dialing in a speed for 30 or 60 minutes.

    1. I like the “dreadmill” LOL for the intervals and some sort of sprints too. I find it much more difficult to do these outside for some reason. I enjoy shaking up the speed in any case as I have to in order to get my heart rate up. I am a pretty fit old lady. LOL.

  8. There’s really only one reason to run on a treadmill as far as I’m concerned — safety.

    Where I live, running in the winter often involves running in the dark, on surfaces that are slippery and uneven, and with cars nearby.

    When facing these conditions I grudgingly go on the treadmill rather than risk blowing out a knee on an icy patch I can’t see.

    Someday I hope to never have to experience winter again!

  9. I have a treadmill and it has helped a lot with getting into the Paleo lifestyle from someone who was nearly 300lb.

    No it isn’t natural however it has helped get me active.
    – I use it as a treadmill desk when working from home, rather than sitting at a desk.
    – starting out I needed the shock absorption it provided rather than wreck my joints on hard surfaces outside.
    – I use it for my walk/jog sessions when the weather is rubbish.
    – I use it for sprints (although I am moving to outdoor training for this)
    – I use it for heartrate focussed interval training

    I still use it in conjunction with my more Paleo-friendly sessions outdoors. As a sole device – it is better than nothing. I agree that outdoors on grass or sand is better.

  10. I came across another issue with the treadmill running – during moving forward the brain expects the environment to change, move forward to! if nothing is moving the signals to the brains are confusing, similarly to sitting on the train facing opposite direction of the ride. It supposedly adds stress response although we might not feel it that strongly. Hence more sense- stimulating running outdoors is so relaxing, especially in nature where we in addition get oxygen boost . I cannot remember where I read it but it got me thinking!

    1. That’s interesting. I thought I was just bored but facing backward on a train makes me hugely uncomfortable. I’ll have to look into this. Thanks!

  11. I’d rather do something that provides instant progress, like mowing the lawn. I’ve got the only lawnmower in the county with extra weights attached to it for more resistance when I push (no drive gear on this thing). My next move is to buy a mower with a broken gear drive from a guy across the street–have you ever tried to push one of those things? It’s very tough and exhausting.

    Another activity that provides instant progress is painting walls, but I haven’t quite figured out how to attach weights to the pole–maybe a weighted pole, or a pole made from a weight-lifting bar? I’ll figure it out one day.

    As far as stationary machines go, they make me feel like a hamster on a wheel: going, going, going, but to WHERE? Nowhere! I want more for both my money and my effort.

    1. Funny. I mow my yard whenever I can in spite of have several kids capable of doing it. When they want to mow, I tell them to go ask a neighbor to mow their yard. They might even get paid for it. 😉

    2. Can you duct-tape something around the pole, like a chain?

      My ex boyfriend used to work out daily with a 9-foot oak pole (it’s a kung fu thing). He would get up before dawn and go out on the back patio and do kung fu sets with it. I still remember one night watching when he waved the pole too near the bats’ nest, and they decided to try to run him off. I wasn’t very helpful at attempting to rescue him because I was laughing too much. 🙂

  12. I agree that running or hiking outside is more enjoyable and satisfying. However, purchasing a high-quality treadmill was a great investment for me. I have to schedule exercise in the morning before my young children wake up; if my husband is already at work there is no possibility of going for a run or sprints outdoors as I am obviously not going to leave my kids alone. I used to take them in the jogging stroller and/or backpack but they are much too big for that now! The treadmill is especially nice when it is still dark outside and I don’t feel comfortable going for a run, or during very inclement weather. I always set it at an incline and change up my routine. For example, I may hike up an imaginary hill, steadily increasing the incline strategically and sprinting occasionally up the “hills”. I may run a mile at 2% incline for time and then steadily hike. I may run sprints at 2% to 5% incline while doing burpee and pull-up intervals, etc. If it is my off-day but I still want to be active in the early morning, I may walk at a steady pace while reading. I never take long runs on the treadmill because that is much too boring for me; I save those for when I can run outside.

    I also play with my children outside everyday, whether it be jumping on the trampoline, riding bikes, playing basketball, or engaging in yard work!

    As Mark said, “the best exercise is the one you’ll do”. Treadmills are a helpful alternative for many, as long as other forms of full-body exercises are included and the treadmill is not solely used for long-distance, steady-state running on a 0% incline.

  13. Great points made in this post–and article. I use the treadmill sparingly– and run outside 5-6 days a week–but usually sprints and hill repeats.

    If I do use the treadmill it’s for 7-8 sprints at an elevation of 2.0

    But I also think the vast difference applies to walking– my wife and I hike 5-8 miles a few times a week, and walking on uneven surfaces and over tree roots and sometimes around snakes, makes for a great deal of variation.

  14. Treadmills can be incredible tools… but you have to turn them off and push the belt yourself! It’s very similar to pulling a tire or pushing a prowler sled and will leave your glutes/hamstrings/lungs scorched. Try a bit of an incline for more glute activation and less of an incline for more hamstring action.

    By the way, you will get funny looks from everyone else in the gym who is watching their favorite T.V. show and listening to workout music while jogging or doing bicep curls.

    1. Agreed, they are incredible tools
      if they are the big ones you can use a battling rope and drag them in the gym
      and if they are the smaller ones (like some of the cheaper home models) you can try to lift them from the floor and maybe slide under it and do some squats
      Yes, the funny looks are something 🙂

  15. It just makes sense. We are of the earth. Get outside on the dirt, the grass, the sand, go PRIMAL!

  16. “1. Running outside is more enjoyable.” Says the guy in Cali. Let me know if you’re gonna be is south Alabama between May and October. We’ll go for a jog.

    1. precisely, but when the weather changes I intend to give it another try!

    2. Hydrate before and after. I grew up in New Orleans so I know what you mean. Similar here in central Texas where the thermometer can hover over 100 DegF for several days at a time during the summer. Still, great sunshine and exercise out in the sun! My route usually takes me near a lot of traffic and so while the O2 is good, the other things in the air (vehicle exhaust) are not so good. But the body adapts!

    3. Funny, I was thinking of inviting him up to Michigan in January! He can tell me how enjoyable it is to run outside through a foot of snow. 😉

  17. I am not able to run outside due a back injury caused by running for long periods of time when I was younger (now 70) on very hard surfaces (i.e. concrete/asphalt). The treadmill allows me to still get my cardio utilizing high intensity training for 20-25 minutes (speed at 6mph at inclines between 2-6).

  18. I’m a walker rather than a runner. I have no proof of this, but I also think there’s some eye-brain thing going on. Sure, you may burn as much energy walking on a treadmill for an hour as you do with a one hour walk. But your brain isn’t seeing a change in scenery. Your body isn’t “learning” that it needs to be functional enough to take you from one place to another.

    My major issue is weight maintenance. Walking works. Treadmills never have.

  19. I would love to run outside but I have some obstacles in my way.

    1. I’m not strong enough, but I’m working on it. (The treadmill has some impact absorption that I need. I’m 54 and only 4 months into this running thing.)

    2. It’s way too hot out there this time of year. Maybe when the temperature and humidity drops below “wall of fire” I can try again. (South Florida in June, youch!)

    3. Having access to a lesson of some kind allows me to incorporate work so I can justify a lunchtime or early evening run when I have the energy to make 4.5 miles. Plus the distraction allows me to direct my attention away from myself while I build up stamina and strength.

    But thanks for the reminder. I’ve been planning my escape to the great outdoors sooner rather than later.

    1. Same here, South Florida. Humidity is almost defeating, just drags me down.

      I can’t run, not because I don’t want to but my body says NO WAY! I’ve started using a treadmill to reduce the impact and slowly build up to running. I have a routine at the gym that mostly includes exercise with weights but I try to get in 20 minutes on the treadmill as well. I go to the gym every other day.

  20. Running outside, and even better in a nice green environment, is more fun than on a treadmill.
    However if you live in an area where weather conditions can be that bad that you really don’t want to go running outside, a treadmill is a good alternative.
    I would suggest to do a combination of running outside and running on a treadmill on bad weather days.

  21. I walk on the treadmill sometimes. But I always do it with my (bluetooth) headphones on (hate wires hanging from me when excercising). I also practice my air guitar while listening and walking. It doesn’t sound dangerous, however, sometimes when a particularly difficult solo on the higher frets comes along, I close my eyes a bit too much and start to coast backwards on the treadmill, or accidently step on the frame of the machine next to the moving belt. You may think I’m joking, but I almost broke my neck one day during Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of “Little Wing!”

  22. Mark, are Trueform treadmills the exception?… to changing your biomechanics while running? I know they are very popular in the Crossfit community. I was looking into one of these, pricey but if they don’t change your biomechanics i’m definitely interested.

  23. I guess I’m an exception in that I LOVE running on the treadmill. Following a 50 lb weight loss 9 years ago,I started walking, and worked my way up to running, on the treadmill and currently am at 7.5 to 8 mile runs.I alternate it with the elliptical every other day.

    I catch up on all my movies and tv shows on the treadmill.
    I am an early morning exerciser so hitting the treadmill at 4am is also more practical and safer.

    Great post with great information!

  24. “The best exercise is the one you’ll do,”

    Yeah, ain’t it the truth. You hit a chord there. I really would prefer to read blogs than be forced to use the Dreadmill. It’s hard enough for me to engage my mind when running around a track, let alone on a treadmill.

    I haven’t broken out of the track yet because: me — running = not a pretty sight.

    But you’re right. Doing something is better than nothing and so I’m not FloJo. I like to think drivers passing by will say “Look at that old woman trotting along! She’s got game.”

  25. I love running outside and I most often run on natural changing surfaces in the woods, parks and farms in my local, constantly tackling every obstacle near my path. I run bare foot whenever the terrain/surface permits and when it doesn’t I wear 5 Fingers or Merrel minimalists shoes. I race in short OCR’s (at least a dozen a year) as my recreational activity and goal setting motivation. When the weather is too severe or I’m stuck at the firehouse (24 hr shift firefighter) and I feel like running I have to use a treadmill (I wish they had a manual one). Throughout the years I have found ways to make the dreadmill run much safer, mentally challenging and fun. I perform half of my once weekly sprint sessions (usually Tabata style) on a treadmill because trying to keep up with a speeding belt on an incline is incredibly challenging, both mentally and physically to me. I can feel the intense hormonal response rush during and after these sessions that I believe is brought on by the fear of the crash and burn (literally and figuratively). I also perform longer interval type training on the treadmill, not only varying the speed and incline often, but also the direction I face as I dance around (skipping, galloping, spinning, etc.) without holding on. My agility and coordination has improved greatly even at my advanced age, 50’s. Running sideways karaoke style or side straddle hop wise is a blast, and running backwards, especially fast or at an incline, is a true test of mental stability and bravery. Of course my fellow firefighters make fun of me all the time but I play right along with it because that’s what I’m doing, playing.

  26. Though I don’t do much cardio (I lift weights mostly), I use the treadmill once in a while. I have a disability that doesn’t allow me to do much cardio without support (risk of falling) so I need something to grab on to if need be. I also really dislike the sun, or it dislikes me. Despite my brown skin, I scorch pretty easily, and I’m intolerant from the heat from the sun even in the Pacific NW so I stay out of it as much as possible. I know its not Grog like but sometimes you have to do what you can.

    1. Have you tried a rowing machine for endurance training. I have a back injury that makes doing a lot of running tough. If I sprint, I develop weakness in my right foot and end up tripping over it. It’s pretty funny to see. Despite this I can row like a champ and love it. I find it great for both some endurance training and sprint work. Since it uses your legs, back, and arms all at once, rowing reminds of pummeling from when I wrestled only you don’t have to find a partner. just a thought.

      1. I love rowing! I use it on days I do my weights. Its great since its low impact and no risk of falling!

  27. While items 2, 3 and 4 really can’t be argued, item 1 has some room for debate. I hate running outside. I live in Ohio and we have what seem like two seasons, winter and heat/ oppressive humidity. Frankly I don’t mind being out in the cold but the heat, I’ll pass. It flares up several old back injuries. Also the warm weather and intense bright light worsens my seasonal affective disorder. I’ll take the less effective exercise that I’ll actually do and not make in pain and even more depressed the 80+ degree weather.

    1. I agree. While I love running along the river here in Manhattan, the winters and summers really make it impossible for much of the year!

  28. I don’t use the thread mill
    I did not pass the hamster test

    The hamster test:

    * stand in front of a mirror (better when alone, this is a little weird)
    * stare at your face and do munching movements with your mouth showing your front teeth only (it is a little difficult, think of a rabbit munching a carrot)
    * Stay a this for for 30 seconds

    Now ask yourself this question:
    Do I look like a hamster?

    If the honest answer is no, you most likely are not a hamster and you should not behave like a hamster

    1. Hamsters run outside in the wild also, so I’ll behave like a hamster in both respects. Humans make hamsters run on wheels, don’t let someone tell you how to run, do what you enjoy doing if it works for you.

  29. I’m not up to running yet.

    After 68 mostly sedentary years, I recently bought a fitbit and am “strolling”. Not trying to set any records, but just trying to be more “primal”.

    I bought a fitbit so that my niece-in-law wouldn’t be at the bottom of her “friends” list of step counts. I don’t mind being the “designated loser” for a good cause.

    So first day out, in a fit of typical fat old white guy Jasper injineer, I say to myself: “what’s so hard about the walking anyway”. The device comes set at a daily goal of 10k steps. (Notice that is NOT 10k in kilometers, but 10k in steps — however long or short your step is.) “Piece of cake”!

    Not so much.

    After walking a mile per day in the company garage at lunch time for a year when I was working, did NOT seem like much.

    I did 10k but strained my knee. Then next day I tripped and fell.

    Time to reconsider that plan.

    So, I dialed back the goal from 10k to 4k. And, started slower.

    After a few weeks, I can report that the Fitbit, the iPhone app Human, and the iPhone app Moves can’t agree on exactly what I am accomplishing. But, I know it’s somewhere in there.

    I think your point about outside running versus treadmill, is also applicable to outside “strolling” versus inside “mall crawl”. Outside is harder than inside.

    Hope this helps someone who’s no as far along as most of your readers.

    Journey of a million miles starts with the first step.

    thanks for the inspiration.

    p.s., you’re sur that this is how I can become thin, young, and handsome?

  30. The other big thing that bothers me about a row of treadmills at a gym is the tremendous amount of electro magnetic radiation given off by 20 machines closely spaced. I believe we get plenty of that without a significant amount of time on a treadmill. Just my 2 cents worth

  31. I enjoy both however because of childcare and elder care issues I need to be closer to home when I do my thing. It’s much simpler and safer to put my kids to bed and run or walk on my treadmill while they sleep or to get up before they do and get it in. My only other option would be to do it during my lunch break which is only half an hour and wouldn’t leave me time to freshen up before returning to work. Mine is an incline trainer and I do prefer to be on at least a 5% incline for walks or runs.

  32. The completely self-powered WOODWAY Curve Treadmill offers a one-of-a-kind workout experience that requires zero electricity. It was supplied to our troops in some base camps in Iraq and Afghanistan. You will definitely work your glutes and hamstrings, as opposed to electric powered treadmills, while running or walking on the unique curved running surface where you are the motor. The Curve Treadmill challenges the entire body while burning up to 30% more calories than on any other treadmill. I have never experienced close to the challenge on electric treadmills than what I experienced on the Woodway. But, at nearly age 76, and having had a left total knee replacement, as a former competitive runner and race walker, I wouldn’t trade the outdoors for anything for my now leisurely walks when the conditions are not extreme. Also, for non-impact running try using the deep end of the pool with a flotation belt or device for water running where you can over-stride to increase flexibility when desired and can also add deep water exercises to your routine.

  33. Great post Mark! I’ve found that when running outside, I can get into a “zone” quite easily whereas being on a treadmill might possibly be the worst place on planet earth. I can’t stand them so I’m partial to do as much as you can outside. 🙂

  34. Wait, so, kinematic differences disappear if I’m only running a 4.5 minute mile??? 🙂 I’ve seen some people go hard on a treadmill, but a sub 4.5 mile? Do they even go that high? I shudder to think what would happen if you stumbled. You’d probably go through the wall.

  35. I got a horrible “hip pointer” injury from using the office gym’s treadmill for only three weeks. I was completely taken out, with the worst pain imaginable (there is no position you can get into to relieve the pain of a hip pointer). After three days of being at home alone wishing for death and unable to think straight, my brother realized I wasn’t just home with the flu, and got me to go to a doctor for pain medications.

    I have to say over time I have become anti-exercise equipment of any sort. I was very athletic throughout my childhood years and well into adulthood, most particularly with martial arts, and while I believe using gear like tennis rackets or swords etc. is fine if you are properly trained, typical gym weight machines, bikes, and the like are just asking for injuries. Every time I’ve tried getting into such programs, I quickly develop problems. The movements are just too artificial and rigid especially with repetition, in my opinion. While you can be trained to use a tennis racket, you can’t overcome the inherent rigidity of an exercise machine.

  36. Wow, terrific comments all. I need to read a lot for my work. But found that I didn’t seem to retain or ‘get into’ nonfiction like I do fiction. Discovered quite by accident that audible books and podcasts work great for me. So now I have an Audible account and download 2-5 books a month to listen to while walking the trail or to the supermarket (or even riding my bike).

  37. One of my perpetual sedentary employees bought a treadmill for home use. When it was delivered to the office. I announced, ” Your new clothes rack is here”. Why does one need a machine to walk?

  38. My Grandmother was confined to a room of 4 walls in a Nursing home at the end of her life – so the morale is – you will have plenty of time to stay inside when you get old and your health fails, and you will look back and wonder why you ran inside on a treadmill, when you had the ability to take in and enjoy the outside world.

    ..time enough to stay indoors when your old and in a nursing home.

  39. You can also spice up your ruuning outside- when i ran at night on my hood i would pucture zombies from the apocalypse casing me down and i’m running for my life

  40. Science also reveals that by running inside instead of outside, where there are sights, sounds and obstacles like cars, people, rough terrain – you are missing out on some important brain training

  41. I like treadmill running (because in the UK it’s only nice to run outside on a sunny day which are far and few between) but I am currently recovering (with no running) from an overuse hip injury. This post basically described a lot of the biomechanical problems I have which may have led to my injury. Now I think I will make an effort to include the odd outdoor run just to strengthen my ankles -and glutes more (becuAse this has become a weak spot). Thankyou for this post! You wrote it just when I needed it 🙂

  42. Good points all around.

    That being said, I used to run in all kinds of weather. Now that I’m a little older,I’m comfortable with using the treadmill at the Y to get the job done when the weather is awful (hello, Michigan winters!) or when I just don’t feel comfortable running around my less than perfect neighborhood. I usually use the random hill setting to keep it interesting. Whether inside or outside, at least I’m getting the run in.

  43. When it’s 105*F outside the treadmill is a great alternative. Found a cheap one at our used sporting goods store. What about a rubber track? It’s no trail (preferred!), but it’s accessible and free. Are the repetitive injury rates similar to that of a treadmill?

  44. It was SO validating to see this! I hate treadmills! There you are, essentially jumping up and down in one place, with nothing to think about except the running and the sweating, and the heat of it all – because of course you are certainly not generating a breeze as you go on your treadmill.
    When you are running outside, there are breezes, there is the wind of your motion in your face, there are birds, plants, clouds – no matter how city a place you run in, there is life around you, and your legs are propelling you through it. You can FEEL how different it is to run on a real surface; your feet grab the pavement, and pull your body forward, then push it onward. So different. I am glad someone did the science..,

  45. Never enjoyed running on treadmills, though I don’t begrudge those who do. I just can’t stand the feeling of doing all that work without actually going anywhere!

  46. Completely understand the position on this. I had to run a 12 miler today on my treadmill and it was so so boring compared to when I am out. However,as a beginner runner, I needed the soft surface for my joints. I also have little kids and must do my cardio in the early mornings while they sleep. They just grew out of he jogging stroller so spare me that one. I supplement with outdoor running but also have to think about safety because I run alone. I agree that it feels harder and it’s very boring but for my shorter 30-45 minute runs, i just power through and use the time I have with my mind.

  47. “4. Treadmills don’t engage the posterior chain as much as running outside.”
    This is the most commonly held misperception about threadmills. Its wrong. Propulsion requirements (apart from wind resistance) are the same. The perception of the belt “dragging the leg backwards” is wrong. Better put: Its the same in overground running. At the same speed, the same “dragging” would be seen in someone who cycles for example at a runner´s side and watches his feet.
    The topic at work here is called “frame of reference” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frame_of_reference and applies to lots of physical phenomena.
    Accordingly, studies confirm this by showing roughly identical kinematics (the 2013 study by Caeckenberghe et al. which did report substantial differences concerned acceleration, not usual constant speed running). They slightly measure different values in certain aspects (as the ones you reported in point 3), which has to do with belt surface elasticity, constant (instead of self-selected) speed, altered visual and sensual (wind resistance) perception. But biomechanically, propulsion demands at the same (wind-adjusted) speeds are roughly the same.
    I prefer outdoor running – your hamstrings and glutes are worked the same on a treadmill, because propulsion biomechanically is the same.

  48. I was just looking for articles that talk about the vital difference between running normally and on a treadmill. You are not running at all on a treadmill. You are just placing your foot forward and slapping it down while the belt takes your foot back.
    In running you are engaging muscles to actually propel your entire body weight forward.
    Either treadmills are a big industry and thats why not on health expert is willing to tell the truth about it even though its pretty obvious or(since I am not a conspiracy nutjob) I think people are just dumb including the running experts.
    Otherwise its so obvious when you run on a treadmill you know you are not running.
    you are just trying to keep up with the ground moving under you.
    This leads to injuries.
    And you don’t use many muscles because before you can use them you have to stop yourself from going backward so you immediately slap your foot down in the front.
    Damn the age of stupidity is here I guess.

  49. While I try to do my long runs outdoors, I actually PREFER running on a treadmill. Especially once the temp outside dips below 35. Takes too long in my short early morning time frame to layer clothes, put on reflective vests, hats, gloves etc.. Also, I live in an area where your safety is at risk when running on the streets, too many half asleep drivers early in the morning (which is when I run). Much easier for me to crawl out of bed and go the basement to run 4 to 6 miles on a given weekday. As far as some commetns here regarding a treadmill not feeling “natural” for running, if you think about it – running for an hour or more regardless of where you do it is not natural anyway you shape it.

  50. I’ve always run outdoors from age 42 to 47 and now joined a gym in the summer. I just did an outdoor run in really cold conditions. My lungs were on fire. Basically I’ve lost my ability to run outdoor by training only indoors, so I see I need to mix it up. There is no way you can be a good athlete by running only indoors. My lungs are still burning hours later, but interestingly my legs are not even phased. The big plus of doing treadmill is that you are close to core exercise floor mats and weights. These are were I think all the big gains are made in an indoor workout, since I find doing core and proper warm up and down, you never ever feel injured.

  51. I absolutely agree with the points here. I had purchased a treadmill sometime back and within a week found myself bored and de-motivated. It felt really monotonous even if did I try a different type of workout.

    So I decided to wake up early morning and take those runs outside. 1-month in and I feel amazing and don’t even an alarm anymore to get me up.

    So if you are thinking about getting a treadmill, ditch it. Take your runs outside and trust me and it will make a world of difference

  52. Treadmill sure does have its benefits especially if you workout late at night or during bad weather but running on the outside is definitely more fun and challenging.

    Nothing like a breath of fresh air at 5 in the morning. Not to forget, you get explore tons of places and meet new people all the time 🙂

  53. Mark Sisson, That’s an interesting article telling the real facts about running outside is better than a treadmill. I am surprised that you have did a good research and come up with the genuine facts infront of audience. Bravo!!

    1. Meshele!
      you are absolutely right, it’s a really interesting article. I have good news for you, we are also discussing the treadmill with real facts.