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Treadmill vs. Road Running: Choosing the Best Way to Run for You

As a runner, there’s nothing more wonderful than a cool morning, a gentle breeze, and some scenery. I love to run outside. Because of where I live, I typically run on pavement in neighborhoods. Sometimes I manage to run through parks and even along rivers during my weekly training. When everything is in sync, there’s noting better, but that’s just one runner’s opinion.

Many runners run outdoors on the pavement. However, there are also a lot of runners who actually prefer the treadmill. As I’ve had my fair share of terrain experience, I can safely say that neither is necessarily better, but they are very different.

Road Running

Road running naturally creates many benefits for the training athlete. Because of the uneven surface the outdoors provides, the body gets a complete workout. Stabilizing muscles have to work harder out on the road as the runner has to shift to adapt to the changes. Road running will also bring its share of climate obstacles. Wind will provide great resistance training and heat and cold can also help the runner prepare for any given race day condition. Another major bonus of road running is that it burns more calories than treadmill running as it is more intense and demands more energy from the leg muscles.

On a financial note, road running doesn’t require a gym membership or an investment in an expensive machine. Other than the price of shoes and pair of shorts, road running is very affordable. Treadmills are expensive in comparison, whether they come in the form of a gym membership or a personal home machine.

Of course road running isn’t always glamorous. The weather has always been my biggest enemy when it comes to road running and even I have my limits that force me inside. Ice is typically a deal breaker. Even with special winter traction on your shoes, ice is dangerous and a lot of runners get hurt trying to navigate on slick roads. The heat is a big factor, too. If it’s going to be really hot, rise earlier to avoid the worst of it, as the raging heat of the road can be conducive to over heating and dehydration.

Other than the weather, the road presents more challenges that you don’t find on a treadmill. While the shifting terrain can be great for training, it can prove to be too much for some. Hills are very tough, turns in the path can really take a toll on pace, and traffic is an ever present factor to deal with while on the road.

Treadmill

Perhaps the treadmill’s biggest benefit to runners is that it can provide a place to run when the road can not. Another benefit the treadmill has over the road is that you can track specific distances for focused training. If you are training for an event and are on a specific plan, the treadmill allows you to stick to your training schedule perfectly- no more, no less.

The treadmill is actually easier on the joints than the road due to the surface of the belt. The treadmill allows for the runner to really customize their run as well. If one needs to incorporate speed into their workout, most machines have an option ready at the push of a button. If the runner needs to train for hills, but lives in a flat terrain, the treadmill is great for that, too.

There’s a risk of slight danger, too, that comes from the fact that one can trip or lose control on the treadmill. There’s an adjustment period for a first timer, but as long as you pay attention, you should be fine.

It’s also arguable that the treadmill will not aid in preparing your for a race. Since races are run on the road, too much time on the treadmill could be a major shock to the body as it tries to adjust to the heavier impact. One of the biggest arguments against treadmill running is that it doesn’t allow for proper bio-mechanics to take place. This means that due to the unnatural surface and space, the runner may change their natural stride, position themselves differently, and even waste energy due to a different posture.

Trail Running

It’s clear that runners have options when it comes to where they run. Perhaps one of the best and toughest options is one that few of us have the chance to explore.

Trail running is more like a cousin to running than an equal. First of all, few runners live anywhere near any real trails, but it’s a whole different game and even the best road runner will be challenged by a trail.

Trail running provides several benefits. Trails provide amazing scenery and they’re easier on the joints, but just because they’re easier on the joints does not mean they’re easy. The trail runner gets an amazing workout due to the demands of the terrain. Every muscle from the shoulders down is used to stabilize a runner on an uneven, rocky, or unpredictable surface. The core muscles get a great workout as they work very hard to keep you vertical on the trails.

Trail running will burn more calories than the treadmill or the road, but there are some tough challenges that may deter runners from hitting the trails. While the treadmill and the road allow the runner to zone out, the trail demands constant attention. Every step is an adjustment and a potential tripping hazard. The trail presents many more chances for a fall or injury and requires a lot of focus.

Obviously there’s no perfect place to run. Every option presents its own obstacles and provides it’s own benefits. Each runner will find their own perfect place. Find your happy place runners, and run on!

View Fitness Comparisons Slideshow

Also Read:

Top 5 Reasons to Run Outside

Get the Most Out of Your Treadmill Workout

June 22nd, 2011

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