By Christina | July 25, 2009
The argument over whether it is better to run on a treadmill or run outdoors is almost as common as whether it is better to do cardiovascular or resistance training. The answer is simple. It is important to incorporate both treadmill and outdoor running into your training program.
Personal preference has a lot to do with where you are most comfortable running. Some runners do not like dealing with the elements such as cold temperatures, rain, or heat. If you are prone to injury or have joint issues, treadmill running can provide more cushion to lessen the impact to your joints. In addition, treadmills are excellent for new runners because they can run with no worries of being stranded far from where they started. These are all valid reasons to run on the treadmill. But, even diehard outdoor runners should include treadmill running into their training programs.
At least one day of speed work is essential for every runner to incorporate into their weekly runs, regardless of whether you are training for a marathon. There is no better tool than a treadmill to help you accomplish this. By manipulating the speed on the treadmill, you are forced to hold that pace for the duration of the sprint or distance you are trying to cover. This constancy of speed is not guaranteed outside. You may slow down midway without even realizing it. In addition, you can easily monitor your time and distance while working on increasing your pace so keeping track of your progress is much easier do. Even occasionally for mid-distance running, a treadmill is a good idea because you can increase your pace steadily as your run progresses and lower the time of your overall run.
The trick with treadmill running, however, especially if you are training for a marathon, is to limit the number of runs you do on the treadmill. Treadmills don’t adequately mimic the conditions of the road you will be running come race day. There are tricks you can do with the treadmill to compensate for not training outdoors, but these are not enough to prepare you if you never run outside.
One of the advantages of training outdoors for a race is your body will be used to the wind resistance that makes running outdoors more difficult. You can increase the incline on your treadmill to compensate for this, but nature is inconsistent and unpredictable. Your body needs to get used to dealing with these different elements on a regular basis. Also, the belt of the treadmill pushes you along as you run. Road running will force you to use proper form and posture to get the most forward momentum and the longest stride. There is no faking it on the road. Most importantly, there are terrain and elevation changes that regularly occur on outdoor runs, even in seemingly flat areas. Your stabilizer and core muscles are much more engaged when you run outside to deal with these variations. You want your entire body to be the most physically prepared possible to meet the challenges of running a marathon come race day.
There is a place for both treadmill running and outdoor running in every exercise program. Be sure to do both in order to be the strongest, fastest runner you can be.