Running: treadmill vs road

I’ve started a running program recently. For various reasons, I’m doing all my running on a treadmill at the gym. I have the grade set for 1.5%.

Looking for opinions from those who have done both. How does running on a treadmill compare to actual running on a road? If/when I finally reach my goal of 3 miles, will I be able to move to the real world and still do 3 miles, or will I need to build up again?

I have done both, and I’d say that road running is about 50% harder. You’ve got wind resistance, which makes a huge difference, and real hills and valleys.

I did my first three miles on a treadmill, and was really proud of myself. Then I went and tried to do it on the road a few days later and I could only make about 2.6 miles (I have since built up to 4.5 miles on the road, however).

50% is probably a little pessimistic.

I can run 10mi on a treadmill in 10 minutes less than it takes on the road, but remember that it’s still an hour and a half run.

In other words, if you are able to run X miles on the treadmill, you will likely be able to run 95% of X on the road, or you will simply run X at a slower pace. It’s not like you are totally fooling yourself and your 3mi treadmill runs become 1.5mi road runs.

Many folks add the 1.5%-2.5% incline, just as you do, to make up the difference.

I spend 60-70% of the time running on a treadmill at the gym. The reason is that the trails are often muddy and the sun sets too early in the winter to get in a run after work (I run in the evening).
As long as I have some podcasts queued up to listen to, I don’t mind running at the gym.

The treadmill is better on the knees than pavement or concrete (and try to avoid those).

The main diff is that outside you have wind resistance and weather; in July the gym is air conditioned but it is “90 degrees and steam” outside, so that definitely affects the quality of the run.

Good luck!

I heard that road-running is harder on your body than treadmill running. Any truth to that?

Sure, pavement is harder then the treadmill, which is cushioned.

However, unfortunately there is no treadmill marathon. If you want to run in most events you’ll have to get out there and get used to the road. That’s a factor for some people and not others, but it’s something to consider.

There are also intangible benefits to road running - fresh air, sunlight, seeing your town in a new way, being able to switch up your routine to see different things and keep from getting bored, etc. I think I’d die of boredom running in the gym. Also, you don’t have to wipe down the road when you’re done, and it’s practically free.

On the other hand, few people have ever gotten hit by a drunk driver in a gym. Also, if you get hurt or just don’t want to run anymore, you haven’t gone ten miles from your house and you don’t have to limp home or try to catch a ride on some crunchy granola pothead’s bike. So you never accidentally reek of patchouli and Icy Hot at the same time, which is what I’d call an intangible benefit.

In addition to how much softer the treadmill is to the road, mechanically, the movement of the treadmill also helps with your kick (the end of your stride when you lift your heel behind you). Its uniform surface also doesn’t require as much work from your stabilizing musles that uneven terrain does (no road or sidewalk is perfectly smooth).

The road is much harder than a treadmill. Though the affect on your joints can depend on what type of road you’re running on - tarmac, concrete, packed rock, etc. If I recall correctly, tarmac is the easiest, with concrete being the hardest on joints. Regardless, running on a treadmill is much, much easier than the easiest of roads.

It’s good that you’re starting at a grade of 1.5%. A physical therapist once told me never to run on a treadmill under 1% elevation. He said that running on a treadmill at 0% elevation is like running slightly downhill; that’s why a road is harder on your joints, but many people complain of lower back pain when running on a treadmill. Plus, the gradation gives you a workout more similar to road running.

The main benefit of a treadmill run for me is that I tend to push myself harder. On a road I’ll do usually end up doing 4-5 miles at a pretty set pace, but if I get on a treadmill the little speed setting will start mocking me to the point where I’m alternating between 6 and 10 for quarter miles and eventually end up doing interval training for three miles. It can be a real lung-buster.

I find any stationary device too easy to quit. I’ll set a goal and then decide my knee is sore or I tweaked my back yadda yadda yadda, things I would just press on with if I was outside. A personal flaw I freely admit. Plus I enjoy the scenery more, prefer cycling to running, but the phenomenon’s the same.

Okay, but what if when you run not on a treadmill, you do it on something other than road? When I used to run, it was on an outdoor track or an indoor track (no hills/valleys). How does that measure up?

Running on a track, indoors or out, is the same as on the road.

Even with no hills and valleys and no wind resistance?

Sorry about that. Since the thread was about treadmill vs. road, I was thinking those differences.

Hills make the biggest difference. Wind not as much as you might think at normal training paces or wind speeds. High winds (over 15mph) or faster paces(under 8min/miles) you will start seeing a noticeable difference.

Runworks Calculator.

What about other outdoor surfaces? School tracks, grass, trails?

Grass can be very soft to the point of being unstable. Watch for holes and uneven surface.

Trails can also vary plus uneven surface, rocks, roots and camber can make for both a good workout and treacherous footing.

School tracks vary, dirt tracks are about the same as hard packed trails or fire roads, artificial tracks can range from cushioned (good for distance runners) to hard(good for sprinters). They also harden with age.

I run a lot. I prefer outdoors to indoors, partly because I live in a very scenic area (Colorado), but there are many reasons. You get more exercise per minute outdoors. There used to be some debate about why, but I favor two reasons. Indoors, you do not move with respect to the air, which drastically decreases your wind resistance - even a slow run is 5mph. Note that even though the wind itself more or less averages out on a track, you still are moving forward to the air, and it does make a difference. You also spend more time running into the wind than with it, because you are slower into the wind. (The still air on a treadmill also creates heat dissipation problems. If guys are comfortable standing around in shorts, then it is already too hot to run far. You can really swelter on a treadmill. Overheating seems to make more people stop than actual exhaustion.) A treadmill also provides the power that moves your foot back, relative to your body. Given that, I’m amazed treadmills burn as many calories as they do.

BTW, the best reason for using a slight incline on a treadmill isn’t so much to increase the workload to be more like running outdoors, but so that your running motion is closer to the natural motion you get outdoors.

Cement, and non-cinder tracks, believe it or not, are the hardest on your joints. Tracks are designed to maximize rebound, which is pretty hard on your joints. Some treadmills can be hard on your joints for the same reason. Pavement isn’t so bad, but I prefer trails.

I have a much much much easier time outside than inside and I discovered this only within the past year. To the extent that my pace inside is 5.5 mph but my pace outside is 6 mph+. And for years I’d heard the conventional wisdom that treadmills are softer but the only time my legs don’t hurt is if I run outside. I think maybe it’s the lack of moving belt or something-makes me pick up my feet.

What I hate about treadmills are the numbers. For me I’ve learned it’s better to listen to my body as to when to end a workout rather than look at a screen. I run until I feel my body tell me I’ve had a good workout. I think it helps you know your body better.

I also hate the treadmill because the scenery usually sucks.

Run until you feel tired or sore.

School tracks that have been constructed using recycled tire rubber are excellent surfaces for running. They absorb much of the shock load that is normally taken by your knees and ankles and can help your joints stay healthy.

Asphalt is not as absorbent, but is still more absorbent than concrete. My advice would be to avoid running on concrete (sidewalks, for example) whenever possible.

FWIW, I used to run 6-8 miles a day, 4-5 days per week until a repeatedly torn ACL (snowboarding injury aggravated and re-injured by my love of so-called “extreme” sports and activities) made it too painful to do anymore. Now I walk 3-5 miles per day, usually at a high school track nearby.