Treadmill vs Road Running – A Comprehensive Guide

woman running outside

​If you've ever tried to improve your physical condition, you probably know that there's nothing easy about getting or staying in shape.

Your diet, exercise routine, and lifestyle must all be sorted to achieve your fitness goals.

Exercise has evolved in recent years; running has become more popular than elliptical work, and pull-ups have replaced bicep curls.

​Still, one common question unites many new and intermediate exercisers: Is a treadmill more effective than road running for fat-loss and cardiovascular fitness?

Like many fitness-related answers, this one is multifaceted with several points to consider.

And before you read-on don’t expect to find a quick "yes or no" response.

I’ll take a detailed look at the pros and cons of treadmill and road running, as well as the specific situations where each is ideal.

Here we go!

Does running on the treadmill burn more calories than road running?

Let’s be clear up front - running on a treadmill does not burn more calories than road running. 

Though there isn't much difference though in calories consumed when running outside versus treadmill running.

In fact, a 1996 research study determined that setting your treadmill to a 1% incline was enough to compensate for the reduced air resistance and motion of the running belt.

So if you place your incline to the first level, you’re on a ‘level playing field’ with your treadmill.

Directions to Calories

​Treadmills typically offer many levels of incline. So, if you increase it more than one percent, you’ll get an even higher calorie burn than running outside.

This is an especially handy feature if you live in a relatively flat area without any decent hills nearby.

Tracking progress on a treadmill versus outside

Today's treadmills are fantastic, as technological innovations, they have benefited the field as a whole, and stiff competition amongst manufacturers has created some great machines that give you so much data to track how your going.

Where were we? Oh, yeah—the treadmill positives associated with tracking progress.

Experienced as I am at running, I would have been lost without my treadmill.

When I’m able to run a set distance at faster pace, or hold the same pace for longer, the treadmill computer put all the data at my fingertips.

JLL S300 Treadmill LCD

​It's not difficult to become discouraged when you're new to running. Treadmills provide a means of monitoring your progress every step of the way - proving that you are making progress.

Which type of running is better for consistency?

The weather doesn't always cooperate with outdoor running. There's something to being able to hop on a treadmill at any time with having to worry about rain, wind, cold, snow, dark, traffic, fumes, safety, people staring, or finding my favourite running outfit!

Treadmills are good for your exercise routine because fitness is all about consistency. Let’s face it - it's easy to make excuses when the weather is terrible.

Also, sometimes you can’t leave the house when your significant other needs help with chores, the kids are climbing the walls, and dinner needs cooking soon.

With the treadmill, you can sneak in a quick high-intensity workout, keep an eye on the kids or just pause your workout, tend to whatever needs doing and get back to running.

All this will help you stay consistent and remove barriers (excuses!) from sticking to your exercise plan.

Is road running superior to treadmill running?

Like treadmill running, road running has a few unique benefits that make it a fantastic fitness option as well.

woman running sunny afternoon

​Daytime road running exposes you to a good dose of important vitamin D, and (hopefully) some fresh air and nature.

Road running's possibilities can add variety to your running. Even with entertainment option treadmill running can become tedious.

So which is best treadmill or outdoor running?

With today's fast-paced lifestyle being able to consistently work out, eat healthily, and get a good night's sleep can all be challenging.

Treadmill running and road running both encompass distinct benefits and advantages. These benefits and advantages are all worth considering, and you should select a way of running based upon your specific needs and situation.

Treadmill running allows you to monitor and set your exact pace and speed; this is especially handy for new exercisers who're looking to maximise their fat loss and calories burned without (unknowingly) slacking off as sometimes happens when you are road running.

Moreover, many treadmills provide instant access to heart rate information and pre-set fitness programs crafted for the express purpose of helping runners enhance their physique.

Whether it’s long-slow cardio, HIIT or something in-between your treadmill can be a coach of sorts controlling the workout.

​Running outside during winter days can be impossible, or at least off-putting for many. But to take the entire season off from exercise would abandon your physical health.

In short, if you're not in the best of shape, if the weather could limit your ability or desire to run consistently, and if you're seeking a convenient way to run, having a treadmill is the way to go.

However, road running provides you with ultra-valuable vitamin D, and it is, of course, entirely free.

Outdoor running allows you to see a lot of new things and explore a lot of different parks and trails; running on the treadmill can be comparatively mundane.

That said, you can run on your treadmill watching a movie on your TV or tablet.
Whatever type of exercise you're planning on performing, remember that consistency and preparation are the keys to success. A single road-running or treadmill session that's followed by a week of rest cannot be expected to produce results.

Be sure to create a reasonable, achievable schedule that features you running (or walking) for at least 3-4 times per week.

So what type of running do I do?

Easy. I take a best of both worlds approach​!

I base my workouts around my treadmill with a few outside runs sprinkled in.
The treadmill counts for most of my runs in winter and when I can only exercise later at night.

In Spring and Summer, I add in 1 or 2 outside runs. Trying my best to do them in nature rather than the concrete jungle, and when I can convince a friend or two to come along.

Thanks for reading and I hope this helps you take a step towards getting in optimal physical condition and convince you to start running today!

If you want to check out some treadmills that are good for people just starting out. I just wrote an article about some of my favourite beginner models for people like me who are looking to lose some weight and get fit.