Kerry Jacobs

Treadmill Running and Outdoor Running

Optimise your training by knowing the relative merits of treadmill running and outdoor running!

There are conflicting opinions as to whether running on a treadmill is similar to running outside, in terms of biomechanics. Outside, your legs have to propel themselves forward as opposed to having to pick up your feet on a treadmill, as a belt slides underneath. There is also no wind resistance and the climate is controlled. However, there is some scientific research to suggest that running on a treadmill at a 1% grade may relatively accurately reflect the energy spent running to simulate an outdoor running technique[1]; so running on a treadmill might not be a bad option for simulating outdoor conditions when set up in this way.

Treadmill training can be great in adverse weather conditions to maintain training. Furthermore, rehabilitation from an injury can be carefully paced back on a treadmill. The surface can be more yielding. Using a mirror as feedback can also help work on “form” issues which might contribute to running injuries – such as running with one elbow slightly higher, or knees which “collapse” inwards due to proximal control or lower leg problems. Good treadmills can be programmed to simulate a course, or otherwise incline levels can be manually manipulated. Therefore, potentially, you can use a treadmill to really target areas of weakness in your running (such as hills, or declines) which need addressing.

The downsides of treadmill training are that it can be boring! Furthermore, it can be difficult to help you set your pacing over the course of a run. Lastly, in order for any skill to progress, the skill needs an appropriate degree of functional, “specific” training, which only outdoor running will achieve. The perturbations of the running surface, specific climate/conditions including wind resistance, stimulus and mental preparation involved in outdoor running are required at a certain minimum level of your training, to directly prepare and challenge your body (and brain!) for what is needed to successfully run an event.

So my final verdict? A combination of both treadmill and outdoor running can be a great means of mixing up training and targeting key areas for improvement. In the winter months, leading up to races towards the later part of the year, having an indoor option to keep up training is highly beneficial. Happy running!

[1] Jones AM, Doust JH (1996). ‘A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running’. J Sports Sci, 14(4):321-7.

Tips on Exercising in the Cooler Months


  1. Warm up well
    • A series of dynamic stretches for major muscle groups will help prepare the body and prevent injury by warming up muscles, joints, and your heart rate, in preparation for a run.
    • Warming up indoors is a good idea if the weather is particularly chilly, to prepare for a cold weather run.
  2.  Prepare for all conditions
    • Wear lightweight, wind/water-resistant fabrics that are breathable and that layer up to prevent overheating, to stage their wear throughout the run. This will also assist with preventing getting rapidly cold when you stop.
    • Make sure footwear has a sturdy grip, and keep an eye out for road line markings, wet grass, leaves, and other safety hazards in the wet!
  3. Still cool-down
    • A dynamic cool down is imperative to good recovery – but don’t stay out in the cold too long! Plan ahead for a quick return to warmer conditions.
  4. Recover well
    • Compression garments worn during and the night after running have been shown to help muscles recover and prevent muscle soreness which can affect subsequent training.
    • Stay well fueled throughout the week and maintain a healthy diet in the cooler months, for optimum muscle recovery and training. This should include essential proteins and complex carbohydrates.
    • Ice any new injuries!
  5. Watch for dehydration
    • It may be cold, but water and electrolytes will still be lost by sweating and vigorous activity. Even if you don’t feel like drinking as much water when it’s cold, make sure to keep up fluid intake on the day of training and over the week. Measuring your weight pre- and post- run is a rough indication of how much fluid has been lost.

Have fun!