Treadmill vs Road Running: Which Wins?

Pure running enthusiasts swear by the benefits of road running over staying inside and using a treadmill. But is there actually any muscular difference besides getting fresh air in your lungs and the psychological benefits of getting out and about in the sun?



If you compare the two identical movements of running on a treadmill without an incline and running on a flat stretch of road, the treadmill is easier and will burn fewer calories. The moving belt means you have don’t need to propel yourself as much, which makes it easier to run at higher speeds.

There is also more give on the machine than you are likely to get on the solid surface of an asphalt road. This means there is less soft tissue hardening.

There is also more wind resistance outside, which over a long period of time will account for more energy expelled during outdoor running. However, you can achieve the same level of resistance by adding an extra one percent incline to your treadmill angel.


Although treadmill running is easier, there are some advantages to choosing to do your cardio sessions in the gym on a treadmill. Because there is more give in the machine, the treadmill is much easier on your joints and you are less likely to aggravate an injury. If you suffer from hip or knee issues, you may find treadmill running much less painful than the outdoor counterpart.

Treadmill running is also far better for someone undergoing rehabilitation or recovering from injury as you can control the running environment. You can increase or decrease the belt speed and incline and there are no sudden hills or changes of pace. This ensures you don’t strain your muscles or push yourself too hard at this stage of your recovery.

Doing physiotherapy or rehabilitation outdoors, you always have the temptation to increase the pace. When recovering from an injury, just because you can go faster, doesn’t mean you should go faster.

This level of control also makes treadmills well suited to interval training or warm up and warm down work.


All of these advantages mean treadmill work is perfectly acceptable for your average bodybuilding goals. However, if you are training for a road race it won’t cut it. You need to condition your body to be able to find and maintain a pace on its own.

On a treadmill, you can set the pace and forget about it, but in a road race, you don’t have this luxury. You will need to train your body to find its comfortable pace, while still being able to put in a strong finish at the end of the race.

To conclude, for most gym-goer’s goals, a treadmill should be able to offer an equal cardiovascular workout providing you set the incline to one percent higher than you would on the road. However, for those training for a specific road race, you will need to supplement treadmill training with road running to harden your soft tissue and train your body to regulate its own pace.


Anthony Hill

When you put together the sum total of my 30 years of bodybuilding training, the contests, the vast array of diets I have experimented (tortured) myself with as well as the experiences I have been through with various training partners in the gyms I have trained in all over the world, it’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to do lots of personal training for private clients alongside my day job. For a few years during my 30’s, I moved to Asia and worked as the Fitness Manager and head personal trainer at one of Thailand’s leading gyms in Bangkok. Learn More

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