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?
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. ;)
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%! :-)
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.
- biomechanical differences which may lead to injury
- when fatigued, ground contact is longer on the treadmill than over ground
- "...research is inconclusive when it comes to determining whether or not treadmills are better for your joints than track running."
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.
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.
The unevenness of the ground outside can cause you to workout different muscles.
Using landmarks [buildings, trees, signs, etc.], you can do interval sprints easier than having to deal with treadmill settings.
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...)
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.
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.
Hamstrings. When you're running on a level treadmill, you're essentially hoping up and down on a moving belt.
When running outside, you're also pushing yourself forward (hip extension), which recruits the hamstrings more.
You can overcome this by increasing the incline on the treadmill, but it's still a difference that I didn't see mentioned here.
I do both. I find the treadmill a very nice alternative on days with nasty weather. Also, I tend to use the treadmill for a while if I'm just recovering from an injury. Nothing sucks more than being 5 miles from home/transportation and getting re-injured.
One drawback, for me at least, is that treadmills tend to give you up-to-the-minute distance statistics: 1.2 miles... 1.3 miles.... 1.4 miles... and time statistics: 25:46, 25:47....
There is something about that that completely gets into my head. I can run for 30, 40, 50 minutes outdoors with no problems whatsoever. Have me watch the clock on a treadmill and there's something about it that gets completely inside my head. By the 15 minute mark I'm thinking I'll never make 20 minutes... "You mean I feel like this at the 15 minute mark? How will I ever get 'x' far?"
It's hard not to notice these little incremental changes since the treadmill is designed to prominently display it to you. I would prefer it just flash statistics maybe every 5-10 minutes or so rather than always being present.
Running outside, I have to deliberately check my fitness tracker for a time and/or distance check. Most of the time, I don't even really care. I might look down, especially when running trails or in a place with a lot of scenery, and say, "Wow! It's already been 45 minutes?!"
There's certainly injury-prevention benefits depending on how many miles you are running.
- Having a change of terrain is great for strengthening all the little stabilizing muscles in your feet and legs.
- Varying the surface you run in (variable stimulus to you legs) ensures that you never become complacent and are more resistant to injury.
- There are plenty of accidents that happen in gyms and treadmills. Running at a decent clip while watching Netflix is bound to end in disaster.
Of course, there are counter-arguments for each of these points, and you might be more willing to fall off your treadmill than to be mugged if you take a wrong turn. Ultimately, both training environments have advantages and disadvantages, but I believe the benefits of running outside far outweigh those of running on a treadmill.