I have found a few websites that claim the oxygen usage is countered by increasing a treadmill to a 1 degree incline, however, what I'm looking for is a way to convert treadmill running times into outdoor running times (average, of course). Hopefully a simple multiplier, but a more complex function would be fine.

Is there something like this, or is there a factor I'm forgetting which makes this impossible?

2 Answers 2


Given -

Outdoor - Completely flat, little wind, similar surface (let's say a rubber track)

Indoor - Treadmill flat, same temp as outside, mph/kph calibration is correct (this is hard to prove or disprove but if you are an experienced runner you know if it is wrong)

NOTE** Just because a treadmill is on a flat floor doesn't mean you are running on level. Also - and more common - just because a treadmill is on a LEVEL floor doesn't mean the "0" level is actually level. I have seen both inclined and declined slopes for this. I have worked out at a gym where the owner kept the desirable (good location/tv) treadmills inclined on "0" so the heavy runners wouldn't use them.

Then they are the same. I have worked with people that have had faster treadmill times and others that have had faster outdoor times. It is really in their head. Personally I have the attitude that I will do anything I am "made" to do so I think I am faster on the treadmill - yes it is in my head too. Others get sick on treadmills and need to run outside. The question is very very similar to saying do you run faster on a track or road running? People have the same variances.

The 1-2% incline comment. This comes from road racers. From the road racing/marathon community they believe setting the incline to 1-2% should mimic times they would get on average when out on the road. In theory it is probably right on average but a better tool would be going between -5 to 5% to mimic the hills you will face - I know that is only possible with very high end treadmills.

Just like the outdoor winds and hills and rough road conditions you may face you can also face indoor conditions. I have ran in small rooms where I could tell the oxygen levels had depleted during my run, I personally can't stand running in humid rooms, I run slower with a video screen in front of me... We all have our likes and dislikes. If I had my way I would be in a room at 50F with little humidity at 1 PM.

Unless your goal is marathons or longer road racing you do not need to make an adjustment on your treadmill. If your treadmill times are vastly different from outdoor times I would try a few other treadmills to make sure the calibration isn't throwing you off. If the times are still different then you need to see if there is something you can do to help your "slow area". If your outdoor times are slower are you sure the running area is flat, are you sure about the distances, do you like where you run, are there obstacles, do you run at the same time of day compared to indoor, how is the weather???

If you are really really concerned then count your strides on a treadmill for one mile/2km. Is it roughly the same outside for the same distance (and don't trust all outdoor signs that give you distance info). If your strides are the same that means that you are actually running faster on the treadmill (which is not a negative thing) and you need to push yourself outside more. If your strides are different you may need to work on lengthening your stride outside.

  • The 1-2% incline is generally recognized as being the best adjustment to accommodate wind resistance (The faster you run, the more you create your own air resistance) when compared to outside running. But yes, there is negligible difference overall.
    – JohnP
    Jul 30, 2013 at 16:45
  • It is a great question because it is almost impossible to answer. I don't know how many times a person I trained was convinced that they were faster on the treadmill, until I had them talk to (an equally paranoid) runner that thought the treadmill companies were out to get him and bring down his times. I am not saying that the treadmill vs outdoor preferences were exactly 50/50 but it was close.
    – DMoore
    Jul 30, 2013 at 16:54
  • And some marathoners I have worked with were savants for this stuff. They would get on a treadmill and be like this is out of level or this is off by .2 mph. And they were always right.
    – DMoore
    Jul 30, 2013 at 16:56
  • A good, experienced runner can almost always tell you that. One of our challenges in college was running 400m repeats (up to 16) and at the end, being able to tell the coach what your time was for each of them. Anything that was off by more than 5 seconds and you ran penalty laps.
    – JohnP
    Jul 30, 2013 at 17:13
  • 1
    That sounds like hell. I put my 14 year old through a similar program this spring. He is up a year in school so he was having some issues competing with other boys who were done growing. After a few weeks of running the 400s he thought I was Satan. I picked the 400s to help him lengthen stride. Three months later his 400 went from 1:25 to 1:06. He is now the top 3 fastest kid on a very very good football team but he paid the price. I am not sure there is a harder run or a run that produces such good overall results. If I had him do 16 of those I would have had abuse hearings. haha
    – DMoore
    Jul 30, 2013 at 17:22

A 1 - 2 degree incline will give you enough extra resistance to adequately compensate for the reduced difficulty from using a treadmill, however there is no exact calculation for this. The treadmill advantage will vary based on brand, since they will use different belts, and the tread-board can have more or less spring, depending on manufacturer. If you are training specifically for a running event, there is no replacement for training on the surface you will be running on (pavement, track, grass, etc). The biggest advantages with a treadmill are that you can train regardless of weather, and you can train specifically for inclines (and declines with some models). If you still really want a conversion, the best approach would be to run outside for a set amount of time at a set heart rate. Then run on your treadmill for the same amount of time at the same heart rate. Your conversion will be based on the difference between those two distances. But again, this will vary from one machine to the next, so if you go to a gym, make sure you use the same treadmill and incline settings from one session to the next.

  • I would caution against basing anything on heart rate. Heart rate is highly variable, and can change based on things like hydration level, caffeine intake, fatigue, nutrition, heat, etc. You could run the same effort level indoors versus out and quite easily have a 10-15 BPM difference between the two. Over time an average can be done, but a one time indoor/outdoor test is not going to be reliable.
    – JohnP
    Jul 30, 2013 at 16:48

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