Which is better; running outside or on a treadmill?

For those of us trying to stay fit through exercising, running is a popular choice by a landslide. It is an activity that is accepted and embraced by both old and young to keep their blood “warm” and running. However, the adage old debate remains; running on a treadmill vs running outdoors. Is it better to toil away in the gym (or in your basement) while looking at your reflection or is running outside among nature and its forces a better prospect? Which type of the two is more efficient in cutting calories and which one is more hazardous?

Each has its pros and cons and an in-depth analysis of the various factors at play is required to separate them.

Calories Expended

Running is all about losing that extra calorie and staying fit and hence, you will want to choose the option which gets you fit quicker. Enthusiasts of outside running are adamant that outside running demands more energy, primarily due to the wind resistance which is missing in the gym. Treadmill fans are not convinced about that, and research is actually on their side. A study conducted by Exeter University concluded that the effort of running outside could be matched on a treadmill by setting it to a 1% gradient. Sorry outside runners.

Now that it is established that the energy demanded is roughly equal in both instances, what other factors can separate running on a treadmill vs running outdoors?

Safety Factor

Most of you have already concluded who wins this category. Well, think again! Granted, toiling away on the treadmill means you are safe from dogs or wild animals or falling branches and the harsh terrain or even petty muggers on dark, isolated corners. But the unvarying repetition in a treadmill leaves you susceptible to ligament and joint injury. The act of stepping on the same spot over and over is unhealthy according to researchers. By comparison, every step you take while whipping it outside on an uneven terrain is different from the last; it is not as certain. This may sound like a bad thing, but it is not since it activates a diverse group of muscles in addition to enhancing the sense of balance.

The Exercising Environment

Confined by the gym walls or surrounded by nature? The sweet smell of the quiet nature or the smell of your gym colleagues? I am not being biased here but this category undoubtedly goes to outside running, and academic research is there to back me up. Exeter University discovered that those who ran outside experience a feeling of satisfaction and revitalization as well as reduced levels of stress and depression. These positive effects, they said, are even more pronounced if the running environment is green. You can’t argue with research.

The Cost

Some outside running enthusiasts actually love the treadmill but just hate the associated cost. Try and calculate the dollars you have spent on the gym in the last three years, and you will quit. A person with a tight budget but still eager to stay fit will chose to save the gym bucks and experience nature. Woe on to you if you decide to but your own treadmill; apart from the initial purchasing cost, the electricity cost will make running outside feel like an obvious choice. For those with the money to spend, get that treadmill and start running.


Studies have shown that people who run on treadmills tend to overestimate their running speeds; that they may not be going as fast as they think. If you are trying to match the speed you were running at while outside, the chances are that you are going slower on the treadmill. The best explanation I have is that while running outside, there are visual cues that tend to show you your speed really; like how fast the trees are approaching. These cues are missing from the gym.


A treadmill comes equipped with adjustments that can make your workout harder or easier (some). Nature, on the other end, does not grant the luxury of adjusting it, unless you find a terrain with the desired slope (upward or downward). Therefore, if you like adjusting your running angles and trying different stuff, the treadmill is made for you
VerdictI prefer running outside. The wind on my face is just therapeutic, and I like getting my vitamin D. I can also take my dog for a jog (try that on a treadmill). The benefits of outside running completely outweigh those of a treadmill; more exertion due to higher speed, less cost, safety, and varying muscle activation. Whichever one you choose, the difference in the level of fitness is negligible.



How to Control Your Breathing When Running

When running, your whole system is doing its best to keep your body running and heart pumping blood to your working muscles; breathing ensures your body’s functions. Therefore, it is essential to learn how to regulate your breathing while running; otherwise, you will get out of breath and obstruct your training performance.

Here some tips and strategies so your breathing does not get out of control. Thus you can get the most out of your training program.

Step 1: Nose or mouth?
The best way to breath should in through the nose and out through the mouth. Exhaling through the mouth removes carbon dioxide from your body and stimulates relaxation and concentration. Inhaling through the nose ensures the maximum delivery of oxygen into your blood stream. When running, your body needs as much oxygen as it can get.

Step 2: Rhythmic breathing
Many runners hold their breath or forget to breathe properly when running; this can be a bit of a challenge. The best way to solve this is through rhythmic breathing; also known as breathing cadence, it helps you regulate your breathing and keeps it a steady tempo.

If you are a beginner, you could try a 3:2 breathing cadence, this means that you take three steps on the inhale, and two steps on each exhale. Of course, the ratio depends entirely on the intensity of training and your fitness level.

Step 3: Deep breathing
When running, sooner or later, your body will beg for oxygen, this deprivation will slow you down, causing fatigue and side stitches. You can tackle this by taking some deep breaths can reduce this lack of oxygen, and ensure the proper functioning of your body. But sometimes, you may need to slow or walk briskly to catch a breath and recover.

Chest breathing does not allow deep breathing; instead, you should get your diaphragm involved in the process. Diaphragm breathing will not only enhance your athletic performance, but it will enrich the quality of your life.

Step 4: Relax
A tensed body is more likely to get out of breath fast and tire soon; therefore relaxation can lessen tremendously the workload on your lungs and cardiovascular system. When the body is relaxed, you focus heightens and your running performance gets through the roof.

Tension is an unconscious process; it happens on its own; you don’t even need to think about it. But relaxation is a conscious process, meaning that you need to practice it throughout the workout.

The technique described here will work well for anyone who finds themselves wasting energy and becoming uncomfortable with the whole ‘breathing thing’ when under intense physical pressure or the nerves which often kick in during competitive sport.

It has been used to help train runners in particular who need to remain calm in the face of danger and panic. It can be quite horrible and requires a lot of self-discipline and will power but works a treat! The method and the exercises are open to adaptation depending on your sport’s requirements and skill levels fitness but the principles remain.

The idea is that in you control how much rest you get between sets of a particular, full body, exercise. Full body exercises are required to rapidly shoot your pulse and breathing rate upwards. You perform ten reps of a given exercise then rest for ten breaths. How long the rest lasts depends on your ability to slow your breathing and remain calm!

You then repeat but with only nine reps and nine breaths. The process continues until you perform one breath and one rep!

Below is a sample session I have personally used. Obviously, the weights used should be adjusted according to the individual. A good guide for weight selection is 40-60% of your one repetition max for the exercise in question – you should be able to move the weights quickly.
Push jerk with 2x24kg kettlebells ten reps, ten slow breaths, nine reps, nine slow breaths, etc. down to 1
Rest 90 seconds
As above using 60 kg barbell front squat
Rest 90 seconds
As above using 2x28kg kettlebells swing
Pre-requisites for this type of ‘panic training.’
– High level of competence in the exercises to be performed
– Will power and pain tolerance
– A partner may be useful to prevent sneaky extra breaths!
Don’t expect an easy ride on this one and make sure you’re fresh before trying it!
Remember, the harder the training is, the easier the actual event gets.