How effective is treadmill running compared to running outside? | Arena District Athletic Club

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Bill Brown
Sep 16, 2019

How effective is treadmill running compared to running outside?

Running terrain makes all the difference in training.


I have two little boys and I work from home. I try to get out of the house to run at least two or three times a week and train at home another two or three days. I have a treadmill and a Wii Fit. How effective is treadmill running compared to running outside? And how effective is running in place? My Wii Fit has a “Free Run” program that lasts 30 minutes. I am currently training to run a half-marathon in October. Thank you! – Danielle

Congratulations, Danielle, for maintaining a training regimen in the midst of an obviously very busy schedule. Running outdoors two or three times a week is excellent and should adequately prepare you for the demands of your upcoming half-marathon.

To answer your questions, treadmill running and road running are not quite the same. Running on the treadmill is easier than running outdoors, for a variety of reasons. One reason is that the treadmill belt assists leg turnover, making it easier to run faster. So most runners find that their pace on the treadmill doesn’t correlate to their road pace. Also, some of the soft tissue conditioning or “hardening” that occurs with road running does not occur with treadmill running because the plate or base on the treadmill “gives” more than road surfaces. And, obviously there are no weather conditions to deal with when running indoors.

However, the treadmill can be a great training tool. Because treadmill running is easier, use it for speed work. Use the treadmill to help you run faster by speeding up the pace for short intervals and then slow it down for recovery intervals. This is a very convenient way to get in some speed work or tempo runs in a controlled setting.

Running in place (like with your Wii Fit) would count as cross-training. For more cross-training, I suggest you incorporate sit-ups, push ups or other calisthenic-type exercises that promote muscular strength and endurance. Including muscular strength and endurance exercises as part of your training regimen complements your running. These exercises promote strong postural or “core” muscles. Strong postural muscles help you maintain good running posture and prevent slouching over during the later stages of the race. Poor posture adds additional weight on your diaphragm muscle, the muscle responsible for breathing, and increases its workload.

Run outdoors two or three days a week, with one day designated as your long run day and one or two other runs of shorter distance. This will provide the mileage, the conditioning, and the weather acclimatisation you need for your half-marathon. Include the treadmill one or two days a week for speed work or tempo runs. This gives you three to five days of running. Continue with your cross-training one or two days a week, focusing on muscular strength and endurance. Add some stretching exercises to promote muscular flexibility and you have a very well-rounded training plan.


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