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I'm a lazy person, so running while staying in the same place appeals to me.
Are there any benefits to running outside worth considering, besides aesthetics and feeling the wind in your hair?

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10 Answers 10

I prefer running outdoors for several reasons...

  • It can keep your mind somewhat more engaged than when using a treadmill (i.e. taking in the scenery, etc.) (and possibly keep it away from the fact that you're exercising).
  • You get to go somewhere and see things other than the inside of a gym.
  • As Greg mentioned, the natural benefits of fresh air and sunshine are a huge plus and should not be underrated.
  • You can establish routes using bike paths, neighborhood/city blocks, hills, etc. to track progress as well as to switch things up to keep it interesting.
  • You're less likely to quit. You can easily hop off a treadmill, but once you've jogged in one direction, you have to jog back. ;)
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+1 for "less likely to quit" - I one day ran 5 miles (which I can do fairly easily). I was not paying too much attention, just enjoying the beautiful day. Then I realized I had to run back. I took the next day off from running... – JasCav Mar 2 '11 at 4:12
What is this fresh air and sunshine you speak of, how can us Londoners get some – Chris S Mar 2 '11 at 10:19
i actually enjoy treadmills because they don't let you slow down! – Moz Mar 16 '11 at 12:55
@moz good point but you won't convert me! ;) – gary Mar 16 '11 at 14:16
+1 for "keeping the mind engaged". I get bored senseless running on a treadmill (and a track is not much better), give me a riverside or a park any day! – VPeric Sep 4 '11 at 15:09

A few advantages to running outdoors:

  • Sunshine (get your vitamin D!)
  • Depending on smog levels and your gym's cleanliness and air filtration system, there is probably fresher cleaner air outside.
  • If you run "barefoot" (e.g. Vibrams) on dirt/grass, you'll get some extra stabilizing work.
  • If you get chased by a dog, you'll have extra motivation to really push yourself to 100%! :-)
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What stops you from running barefoot on a treadmill? Except people looking at you with strange expressions on their faces :) – Jonas Mar 1 '11 at 20:27
@Jonas - Nothing but your own self-conciousness! :-) but a treadmill is an even constant surface. It's the unevenness of a trail or field that offers the stabilizing exercise. – Greg Mar 1 '11 at 20:28
A nice breeze also cools down your body, which prevents you from overheating. And running in a forest will give you extra stabilizing work regardless of your footwear ;-) But regarding the stabilizing effect, I expect shoes with a lack of excessive correction/anti-pronation will be effective regardless of the surface :P – Ivo Flipse Mar 1 '11 at 21:16
You can't outrun a dog. I couldn't outbike a dog the last time I got chased. If it wants to maul you, it will. – JoJo Jul 29 '11 at 15:58
Aaron's comment deserves the (-1) – The Chaz 2.0 Feb 16 '12 at 2:36

I've read a good article/study on this, but I can't find a link to it right now. The general idea for criticism regarding the treadmill that I recall was that the movement is not as natural as it seems, because the treadmill is moving your leg backwards instead of your muscles doing all of that and this apparently can create strength imbalances.

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+1 interesting point. I'd like to see what specialists have to say about this. – Nikita Rybak Mar 1 '11 at 21:06
A few downsides are the hardness of the treadmill, which is quite hard on the joints. Ironically, it are always those who can't handle the loads who start working out on a treadmill... I'm not so worried about strength imbalance, but the treadmill probably makes you run faster than you could/should outside. Generally I'd advise anyone to run slower, unless you're trying to improve your racing times – Ivo Flipse Mar 1 '11 at 21:19
There was an article in runner's world about injuries on treadmills, it had more info than this: but that article has the general giste. Apparently they can do long term damage to your knees – Chris S Mar 2 '11 at 10:25
I've heard this before but never understood it. From a physics perspective the only difference between a treadmil and running outside (straight, on a flat path) should be the wind resistance. It's just a frame of reference thing, right? What am I missing?? (This is once your actually running at pace. I can see how accelerating would be different.) – Molomby Sep 28 '12 at 2:27
You're right @Molomby. There are many differences between treadmill and outdoor running, but the simple fact that the treadmill belt is moving isn't one of them. Your foot being pulled back by the treadmill is physically equivalent to your foot being held in place by the ground as momentum carries your body forward. Galileo explained this physics well. – bdsl Oct 5 '15 at 13:28

Before dismissing treadmills I'll point out some advantages of running on [your own] treadmill:

  • Even surface so the chance of injury (tripping for example) is reduced
  • Less impact on knees and feet - no concrete
  • For longer runs, no worrying about the toilet or carrying drinks with you
  • More accurate measurement of timing and distance which helps for self-improvement
  • No hill running required unless you choose it - if you don't enjoy hill running
  • Faster workouts if you don't have to drive to your location to run

But main disadvantages of treadmills:

  • Demotivating repetitive drudgery, unless you really vary it
  • You stare a wall/Sky news/CNN for 20 minutes
  • Less intensive exercise
  • No variation through new runs, or tracking yourself with GPS
  • No opportunity for 'social' running
  • Initial cost

I prefer treadmills for short or interval training runs, and outdoors for longer runs.

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The impact on the knees and feet isn't any better or even worse on a treadmill. There's nothing soft about the wooden plank you're running on. As for the injuries, one mis step on the treadmill can cause much graver injuries then when falling on the sidewalk or a trail. Besides, the way you work out and your shoes are far more likely to cause injuries than the evenness of the surface. – Ivo Flipse Mar 2 '11 at 12:04
@Ivo treadmills have shock absorbers and aren't really planks. You can get run over outdoors, trip on a tree root etc. etc. But I agree shoes and technique are more likely to cause problems – Chris S Mar 2 '11 at 12:26
Well the treadmills I have seen have a long wooden plank underneath the belt and the shock absorbers are probably 'simple' springs. They're there so you don't break the thing when running, but surely not meant for softening the landings. But heck, as long as it keeps you running in the Winter, I say go for it, it beats doing nothing! – Ivo Flipse Mar 2 '11 at 12:42
I have to disagree on the "no opportunity for 'social' running" part. I have friends who run side-by-side with me on treadmills at the gym and converse. I don't see how that would be improved by running outdoors. – Joshua Carmody May 24 '11 at 18:25
I would add that a treadmill can force you to run harder. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on your desires as well as your motivation to keep a higher pace. – The Real Bill May 25 '11 at 6:58

The unevenness of the ground outside can cause you to workout different muscles.

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Not true, you exercise the very same muscles. – Boris Jun 21 '12 at 22:09
I'm surprised more haven't mentioned this. I would think that if you're running outside, cornering, dodging pedestrians and trees, going up onto the pavement and down again, etc. you'll be working a much more varied group of muscles than running in a perfectly straight line on a treadmil. That said, I can't offer any studies or actual evidence for or against this idea. (can anyone else? @Boris?) – Molomby Sep 28 '12 at 2:37

For me, the best non-aesthetic benefit to running outside is far better sweat evaporation (if weather cooperates), and therefore a cooler body temperature throughout my run. My gym is air conditioned and the vent is close to my favorite treadmill--but not close enough to make a dent in my insane sweating. Whereas when I run outside, even at a somewhat higher temperature, the moving air due to my body traveling through it, plus the breeze, makes an enormous difference in how sweaty I get:

  • Treadmill: My t-shirt is almost 90% soaking wet.
  • Outside: My t-shirt is 25% rather wet.

So, for that reason, outdoor running is actually, for me, the "lazier" thing to do, in that the experience is much more enjoyable since I am not overheating so much.

That said, the benefit of the quantifiability of my pace (since I don't own a GPS watch) on the treadmill is a great advantage, and it is much easier to train toward certain pacing goals on the treadmill.

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Owning a treadmill helps even more in the heat and sweat department. I have a treadmill in my basement which allows me to point a large floor-fan at me which generates more wind than running would and I don't have to wear a shirt at all! – Haphazard Aug 26 '11 at 13:11
Good point! I was thinking mostly in terms of gyms that are not all that cool and don't have big fans pointed at the treadmills. But yes, home treadmills allow essentially total customization. You've got a great set-up. – Chelonian Sep 1 '11 at 5:09

Using landmarks [buildings, trees, signs, etc.], you can do interval sprints easier than having to deal with treadmill settings.

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I would argue that most modern gym equipment can handle this for you – Mild Fuzz Mar 4 '11 at 16:35

You can multi-task if you go outdoors!

  • At my old job, I used to run to the post office to drop off mail.
  • You could end your run at the grocery store and then walk back with groceries as your cool-down.
  • It's easier to do a hill workout naturally than constantly pushing the buttons on a treadmill especially if you want to do a really steep hill (which can take FOREVER on the treadmill to adjust)
  • You could run to friend's/relative's house and have them prepare you a nice post-run meal ;-) and then have them drive you home or you could run back
  • You can scope out the fine guys running with their shirts off or fine girls running in their sports bra (I once saw my vice president working out in her sports bra at our gym, that was awkward to see so much skin on a co-worker but she did have a nice six-pack...)
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I have been running for over twenty years and I do not see enough emphasis here on the psychological benefits of running outdoors. Running outdoors is a great stress reliever, running on a treadmill...not so much.

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I think it's too personal for a blanket statement. I feel less stress after a treadmill run than out on the street for one. especially when considering I don't have to contend with traffic or traffic lights. I hate running in place for example. – The Real Bill May 25 '11 at 7:00
@TheRealBill, you hate running in place but prefer a treadmil?? :P (Yeah, yeah.. at the lights. Just a funny way to put it I thought.) – Molomby Sep 28 '12 at 2:40

I've been going to gym for around 4 years, where I sometimes run on a treadmill, but I don't really enjoy it for longer period of time. But about 3 months ago, I started running outdoors every day and I totally love it.

For me the biggest plus is, that I hafe to finish the track I choose. If I feel good, I take a longer track around the park and there's just no way other than running the whole thing. On a treadmill, it's easy to just stop for whatever reason (you might need to go to toilet) and don't get back on again. But when you're 2 miles from home, you still have to get home.

Another great thing are checkpoints. For example you're running and you're getting really tired, so you can say to yourself ok I'm going to run to that tree and then take a little break. It gives you much better motivation when you're running towards something.

Or you might be running up very long stairs and you say 40 more steps, and you can see how you're progressing towards the end. While running on a treadmill, you can only monitor time/distance, which isn't really a good motivator, at least for me it isn't.

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