When the choice between the treadmill or the trail presents itself before your next run, do you know which to choose to maximize performance?
Running is good for your heart, muscles and mind, but tough on your ligaments and joints. How and where should you run if you want to maximize conditioning while minimizing wear-and-tear?
Before we get to comparing the two major means by which humans run today, let’s get one thing out of the way: running is harsh. Slamming the full weight of your body through your knees and into your feet, stride after stride, eventually starts to take a toll. A full-body, low impact activity like swimming (or using an elliptical machine) might be a better option if you want to reduce knee stress.
Sometimes, however, Adrenalists just need to run. If you want to get a great cardio workout, burn fat and build lower body strength, then you’ll still want to lace up your running shoes.
So who wins in the treadmill vs road battle? Read on to learn what both challenges have to offer.
Photo Credit: Flickr.com/Steve Garner
On the road, you push the earth, but on a treadmill, the earth pushes you. This forces a fundamental shift in an athletes’ running form, with some runners leaning forward on a treadmill, and others taking longer strides. The biggest difference between road and treadmill biomechanics, however, is caused by work done for you by the treadmill. You may not feel it, but every second the moving belt pulls your supporting leg backwards. It is doing work for you. It’s one of the main reasons treadmill running is easier than running outside.
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The biomechanics are just one factor that makes treadmill running easier than running outside. Contributing along with it is a lack of wind resistance. Studies show that wind resistance can cause sprinters to expend as much as 13 percent more energy running outside than on a treadmill. That’s a lot of energy – calories that regular joggers will have to burn running on an increased incline (1-2 percent) or with more time in the gym.
Wind is just one outdoor factor that makes the road more challenging than the treadmill. There are also obstacles and the imperfections of the road. A passing car or hole in your path can force you to change your pace, shift your weight or change directions. These actions seem trivial as they are happening, but add up over the course of an outdoor run.
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Here, the treadmill has the edge. Nearly all running experts agree that running on a treadmill is safer overall than running outside. This isn’t just because of the cars and holes; a treadmill belts absorb shock and reduces risk of both acute and chronic injuries. According to a 2003 study, outdoor runners are as much as 285 percent more likely to experience tibial stress fractures than treadmill runners. Various other studies suggest softer surfaces are better for preventing chronic injuries like tendinitis and osteoarthritis.
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No matter what, you should run in a way that pushes you to the next level. Some people find running on a treadmill tedious. To these people we suggest watching TV. You shouldn’t, however, tune in to just any program. Something stimulating that you can pickup and ignore at your leisure is best. Treadmills are made for multitasking. On a treadmill, the finish line is the time or mile display. For those who crave the fresh air and the act of pure running, outside is the way to go.
Ultimately, the treadmill vs road battle burns down to your priorities and preferences. The treadmill offers control, balance, and less long-term knee stress. You can execute perfectly-paced interval training with speed control, and measure your time and distance exactly, so you know when to push yourself to DO:MORE. The open road however, offers the opportunity to explore and carve your own path on the natural world. The elements may present a greater challenge, but that’s exactly what you may need to keep growing mentally and physically.
No matter how you run, go healthy and go hard.