What’s the best way to run: in the gym or on the road?

Clearing the lines to undercover what is the best way to run but explaining the pro's of both

Friends who run together, stay together.Friends who run together, stay together.

How does running on the road compare to running on a treadmill? The common questions of which one is easier? Which is better? Will one benefit me more? If your new to running this can be an important question. To me it’s a no-brainer, I’m a strict road runner. A mile on the hamster wheel feels like 10 on the road but a light jog on a treadmill sure is easier on the body.

Scientific research has been conducted and found that treadmill training is easier than taking on the open road. However, we know a couple tricks to make your treadmill training as effective as your road work.

Why run on the tarmac?

The obvious advantage of running outdoors is it’s free. No gym memberships and no expensive treadmills taking refuge in your front room. As long as you’ve got a pair of sturdy shoes and comfy clothing your good to go.

Tarmac running has a lot of benefits. It’s hard to run on the road because of the natural resistance your body faces. The solid ground, the wind and stationary tarmac underfoot.

The solid ground makes your run harder work on your body, specifically your joints. Roadrunners will harden their soft tissue around the body. In return and after plenty of hours aching and crying, the soft tissue will condition itself to work on the hard surface. This doesn’t generally occur in the same for those who run only on treadmills because the rubber surface has more give.

Running on the open road.
Running on the open road.

The wind depending on its strength provides extra resistance. Which isn’t something that’s usually recreated in gyms. Running into the wind is a force that puts extra strain on your muscles. It’s like trying to pull something along while running.

Stationary tarmac might not blow your mind because of course it is but the moving belt of a treadmill makes each stride easier. You put less effort pushing yourself off each with each step because the moving belt partially assists you.

For you competitive folk there are tactical practices that can’t be done on a treadmill. A lot of people think that running to pace is best done on a treadmill. Wrong. Because of the above factors running at 7k on a treadmill is not the same as the road. When running on a treadmill, it’s easy to “set it and forget it” and just lock into a target pace. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t teach you how to properly find and maintain pace on your own. You stunt your own proprioceptive development as your not getting an accurate feel of how your body actually reacts to working at that level.

And let’s not forget the most reason why running outside is better than a treadmill. FUN! Running on a treadmill is boring! You don’t feel any progression. You run on the same spot over and over again and miss out on the outdoors. Go explore, find new places, test new routes to see parts of the world you haven’t seen!

Why run on a treadmill?

Despite all this anti-treadmill rhetoric, there are a couple of really useful things a treadmill can do. Use them 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.

The dark side. The dreaded treadmill.
The dark side. The dreaded treadmill.

Another unique advantage can be that you can programme your treadmill to run your race. Unfortunately, not literally. A lot of treadmills come programmed with some of the world biggest race circuits. This means you can practice the actual race with changing gradients that simulate the actual thing.

Whats the better option for me?

When deciding what’s better I believe it comes down to your end goal: are you training or exercising? If you’re looking to lose some weight but have no intention at the minute of getting serious with your runs, then enjoy a tick over on a treadmill. The only thing I’d say is a 20-minute run is a 20-minute, whether that’s on the road or treadmill. Due to that, I’d add there isn’t any harm in someone looking to lose some weight to run outside.

For the road,d it opens up so many more possibilities for those of you looking to go that bit further. You can practice tactical running: to time, tempo, steps p/m and at pace. It toughens you up. Conditioning your soft tissue.  And let’s you see the world.

For me, it’s a no brainer but don’t take my word for it. Try both and see what suits you. Either way you do it, you’re doing something good.




Joe Tucker
the authorJoe Tucker
Joe is an aspiring fitness journalist looking to get his foot in the industry at A fair-weather runner and sparring sissy who occasionally enjoys rolling down hills ... on two wheels that is. Any story ideas? Feel free to DM him with any ideas.

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