Does anyone know which muscles are activated when you are running on the street compared with running on the treadmill?

I'm wondering if there is any scientific study.

  • Just out of curiosity, is there any reason to believe that the two are different with respect to muscles worked?
    – Alec
    Dec 18, 2019 at 16:30
  • I've been running on the treadmill for a while. When I started to run outside I felt lot of muscles soared and I got curious about that. I searched on the internet but didn't find anything, so my curiosity increased much more.
    – Pankwood
    Dec 18, 2019 at 20:05

1 Answer 1


With respect to muscle activation, there are definitely differences between running on a treadmill versus running outdoors.

You're being mechanically propelled on a constant and flat terrain with a treadmill. In contrast, you're propelling yourself when running outdoors; this would be the equivalent of running on a treadmill with the belt off. This idea is in agreement with a study I found (paywalled but abstract is free):

The soleus showed a higher amplitude in [outdoor running] during the push-off phase (p<0.05). Altered peroneus longus activity may indicate its role as an ankle stabilizer and demonstrates a compensatory response due to changing mechanical conditions. Weaker amplitudes of the soleus in the push-off during [treadmill running] suggest adaptation to the movement of the treadmill belt [...]

In other words, it is not that the muscles worked are different, just that activation levels are different for outdoor running on said muscles.

A second study I found (again, paywalled) looked at the difference between oxygen uptake, heart rate, RPE, and blood lactate concentration of treadmill and overground running for different speeds. They found that "some, but not all, variables differ between treadmill and overground running, and may be dependent on the running speed at which they are assessed."

Possibly specific to your question is this excerpt from the abstract:

VO2 (MD: − 1.25 ± 2.09 mL/kg/min) and La (MD: − 0.54 ± 0.63 mmol/L) tended to be lower, but HR (MD: 0 ± 1 bpm), and RPE (MD: – 0.4 ± 2.0 units [6–20 scale]) were similar during near-maximal motorized treadmill running to during overground running.

In other words, at your near-maximal speed, treadmill running caused the same rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and heart rate (HR) as overground running. However, the body's oxygen uptake (VO2) and blood lactate concentration (La) were lower on the treadmill.

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