The Treadmill vs. The Great Outdoors

treadmill calorie burnPersonally, I hate running on a treadmill. And I know, there are plenty of reasons to run on the treadmill: bad weather, dark nights, dark mornings, reduced risk of injury, simulated hills, digital progress mapping – but the treadmill doesn’t deliver the same workout as the great outdoors. Going from the safe, cozy room with a treadmill to the great outdoors can be a rude awakening for many indoor runners.


Why is outdoor running better than running on a treadmill?

Facing all the potential elements, like heavy winds or uneven trails makes outdoor running more challenging, but exclusively running on the treadmill also sells you short on muscle recruitment. Don’t get me wrong, running on a treadmill is far preferable to sitting around, but if you have the option – mix up your runs. Powering through an outdoor workout strengthens and tones your muscle, along with increasing calorie burn, compared to treadmill running.

Does running on a treadmill burn as many calories as running outside?

I always tell my clients, “Never underestimate the power of the pulley.” Whether you are running on a treadmill belt or lifting weights on a machine, part of the work load remains with the object. When running outdoors, you push off on your quads and as your stride cycles around, your hamstrings kick into action to lift your leg behind you. On a treadmill, the propulsion of the belt forces your leg up, leaving your hamstrings doing very little work. In turn, you over work your quads and under work your hamstrings, which can lead to muscle imbalances, a reduced calorie burn and aesthetically speaking, won’t get your tushy quite as tight.

“Running on a treadmill is preferable to sitting around, but if you have the option – mix up your runs.”

As previously mentioned, running on a treadmill eliminates exposure to the elements. When you are trotting along in the soft breeze of the air conditioning, you are not pushing against the wind or sweating it out in the humidity. These elements force you to push yourself harder to perform – recruiting more effort from your muscles and building greater endurance.

running outside calories burnedFor treadmill runners considering the great outdoors, the uneven terrain can be tricky. A treadmill is always consistent, but outside, you have to be on the look out for uneven pavement, sticks, stones, dogs, cats, people, cars and anything else that you might encounter on your path.Outdoors, you have to pay attention to every step and take action if your path must suddenly change. Plus, the treadmill is a lot more forgiving than the outdoor terrain, so your muscles will need time to adjust.

Quite simply, running outdoors takes more effort. It burns more calories and let’s be honest, if you watch TV while you run, well you really are not giving it all you’ve got. In the beginning, the TV with the treadmill can be a powerful motivator, but once you sacrifice speed and effort for the TV, well it’s time to turn it off and focus on your movement.



  1. definitely the great outdoors. i love seeing the scenery pass by me. it relax my mind.

    1. Me too. I love running outside – it is so meditative!

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