Have you ever wondered why it’s so much easier to run on a treadmill than outside?
Simply put, running on a treadmill is easier than running outside for numerous reasons, such as the belt assisting your leg turnover, the soft surface of the treadmill, the pleasant indoor weather and air conditions, as well as some physiological and biomechanical differences between both types of running.
When I started running, I faced the same situation. If I could run an hour on a treadmill, I would just last 30-40 minutes outdoors. The differential between the two scenarios fascinated me, and I did some research on this. It turns out that road running and treadmill running are two completely different things.
Why Running on a Treadmill is Easier Than Running Outside
Treadmill running is comparatively easier than road running for several reasons. One of the primary reasons for this is that the belt on the treadmill actually assists you as you run. It has a complementary effect on leg turnover, which makes running a lot easier. You can test this by comparing your speed on a treadmill and your speed when running outside. The pace with which you run outside will be significantly lower than what you clock in at on the treadmill.
Another factor to consider here is the hardness or “give” of the two surfaces that you are running on. Soft tissue conditioning plays a significant role here. You might notice that “hardening” is more common when you are running outside as compared to running on a treadmill. This is mainly because the surface that you are running on outdoors does not provide much cushion to your feet while the belt of the treadmill that you are running on has more give.
Weather and air quality are contributing factors as well. When you are running outside, you are dealing with varying weather conditions. Factors such as the temperature, humidity and wind direction can have a major impact on your running performance. If the atmosphere is too humid, it will have a negative effect on your running ability. You will get tired faster.
If you are running against the wind, the same thing will happen, and you will gas out quicker because of the extra friction that you are encountering. When you are running indoors on a treadmill, the weather has a negligible effect on your running performance. This is also a major reason why you can run longer on a treadmill than outside.
Some researchers even claim that if you want running on a treadmill to be more similar to running outside, you should add a small incline of 1-2% to the treadmill in order to counteract the easier indoor conditions such as the missing headwind.
Biomechanical Differences Between Running on a Treadmill and Running Outside
That being said, there are some fundamental differences in running outside and running on a treadmill. As I mentioned at the start that these two are entirely different things. Let me elaborate a little about how they differ.
1- Stride Length
When you are running on a treadmill, you are essentially running on a moving belt. This means that there is no natural need for you to lengthen or shorten your stride length because essentially you are just running in the same place. There are no natural obstacles or need to balance yourself against the terrain that you will encounter outside. Depending on whether you are changing your stride length or not running can be easier on the treadmill.
2- Constant Pace
When you are running on a treadmill, you set it at a certain speed and in order to stay on the treadmill, you have to maintain that speed. When you are running outside, there is no set speed; you are free to speed up and slow down based on what you encounter on the terrain that you are running on. You might have to adjust your speed for potholes or turns. This constant change in acceleration can be more taxing on your body.
3- Hamstrings vs Quads
There is a difference in the way our body moves when we are on the treadmill as compared to when we are running outdoors. When we are on a treadmill, we are forced to use our quads instead of our hamstrings. If you start using your hamstrings the belt will move you forward. This makes running a little bit easier as compared to using both hamstrings and quads in the running outside.
Is Running on a Treadmill Better Than Running Outside?
That being said, neither is harmful or bad for you. Both forms of running have their own benefits and can be used to achieve the desired results. Running on a treadmill can actually be safer for your joints in certain cases. It causes minimal impact on your body. Since the belt of the treadmill that you are running on is softer than any surface that you will run outside on, it will put less impact on your joints.
Obviously one of the most significant advantages of a treadmill is the convenience factor, so if you have a busy schedule and can’t find the time to go out for a jog or a run the running on a treadmill is the perfect solution. You will get the same results and the same workout that you will when you run outside even if it feels easier.
On the other hand, running outside has its own set of advantages. It is a matter of preference, really. Some people enjoy running outside more than running on treadmills even if it is more challenging. The reason being, it is more stimulating and fun for them. Some people prefer the scenery and the variability factor of running outside and consider running on a treadmill monotonous. It is also a great way to get some vitamin D if you go out for a run during the day. Some people also like running outside because they simply enjoy it more.
You can run on a treadmill longer than outside simply because it is comparatively easier to run on a treadmill. They are two completely different forms of running. Neither of them is harmful to you if anything, both of them can help improve your health. It is just a matter of personal preference. If you can take out the time and enjoy being outdoors, then you will enjoy running outside more. If you have a busy schedule and want to get a quick and convenient workout in then, treadmills are the best option for you.