I’m asked this question all the time: is running on the treadmill as good as running outside on the roads? This is more than a fanciful question, since many people are training for spring races and want to make sure that they get as much benefit from their training as they expect.
To answer this question, let’s compare how they stack up.
Ease of Access
Road running is one of the most accessible forms of exercise available – it can be done anywhere, at any time. At least, in theory. In practice, there are concerns that limit a runner’s options. Running in the dark or alone can create anxiety about safety – made all the more potent by news stories about attacks on runners. Bad weather is also a concern; even with the best of gear, it’s hard to get motivated to run on icy streets when the temperature is in single digits, or less.
Treadmill running, on the other hand, provides the same experience every time: a predictable and replicable workout in a temperature-controlled, safe environment.
Advantage: treadmill.
Injury Risk
Road runners report all manner of injuries from running on uneven, hard surfaces, from shin splits to  sore knees, to bruises from tripping.
Treadmills generally provide a softer, more even and predictable running surface.
Advantage: treadmill.
Running Efficiency.
Road running is the best exercise to prepare the body for running on the roads, like in a race. That’s an example of the “specificity of exercise.” By running on the roads, the body learns to deal with impact, hills, and uneven surfaces.
Treadmills provide a somewhat artificial experience, since it feeds the road to you and doesn’t challenge you to deal with wind or uneven surfaces. But it does give you a good sense of pacing because once you set a speed on the treadmill, that’s what you’ll be running. You can’t lack and surge on a treadmill, or you’ll find yourself thrown off.
Advantage: road running.
Road running allows us to each become explorers as we check out new neighborhoods and paths. In DC, our options include streets, bike trails, and off-road trails. With a little planning, every run could be an adventure.
With treadmills, the benefit of predictability is matched by the tedium of repetition. On a treadmill, there is no journey, there is no adventure, and there is no exploration.
Advantage: road running.
Bottom Line
If you want experience the joy of running, head outside. But if you want really improve as a runner, go indoors to treadmill to work in a controlled environment on your form and speed. Or best of all, include both in your routine to get the best of both worlds.
Ultimately, though, it matters less which format you choose than it matters that you run consistently. 


About horowitzrun

Jeff is a certified running, cycling, and triathlon coach, and is the author of "My First 100 Marathons" (Skyhorse Press 2008) and "Smart Marathon Training" (Velo Press 2011). An obviously addicted runner, Jeff has run at least one marathon in every state and on 6 continents, including marathons in South Africa, China, Bangkok, and Antarctica. Jeff is available for group, one-on-one, and virtual coaching. Options include: 1. Basic Training Plan. This includes a customized training schedule geared towards a goal race, with a detailed running schedule that would include all distances and target times for each workout, including speedwork, tempo, and endurance sessions. 2. Complete Fitness and Race Plan. This includes the plan listed above, plus the non-running workouts and drills that runners need for better overall fitness and performance. You would get strength & core workouts, as well as run-specific training drills and stretches. 3. Virtual Coaching. This includes all of the above, implemented on a week-by-week basis. We review each week's progress at week's end so that adjustments can be made. The program is tailored to suit you right up to race day. It involves more contact, on a weekly or even daily basis. 4. Full Coaching for athletes in the Washington DC area. All of the above, plus a weekly workout together including speedwork, drills, and strength training. 5. Individual track sessions. One-on-one track-based workouts. Contact Jeff for pricing.
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