The great debate – treadmill walking and running versus outside. Well, you can tell by the title, I have my own clear winner. But, if you are still reading past the headline, I bet you want to know more…you want to know the WHY.
In a nutshell, when you run or walk outside, the muscles of the leg have to propel you forward. When you run or walk on a treadmill, the muscles of your leg have to catch you as you fall forward. So even though it looks like the same exercise, they are actually two different exercises using different muscles.
When you are on a treadmill, the floor is moving under your feet. With each stride your body is hitting this moving surface and getting pushed into a forward motion. Your opposite leg then has to get out in front of you and hit the treadmill before you fall forward. So with each stride you are literally just catching yourself from falling instead of running forward.
Outside, the ground is stable, so your foot has to push against that stable surface and push you forward. For one, this takes a lot more strength and muscle activation to do than running on a treadmill so you will actually burn more calories and get a better workout. Secondly, and my favorite part, is that it is safer on your body. By pushing yourself forward, you are using your body the way it was designed to be used, as well as using all the muscles of the back of the leg to help counteract the effects from all your sitting time. Total win.
When we go around catching ourselves from falling instead of propelling ourselves forward, we put a lot of stress on our hip, knee, and ankle joints. Not to mention the load we put on our feet. This extra load leads to some of the most common aches and pains among runners – plantar fasciitis, hamstring tendinopathy, and runner’s knee just to mention a few. Where as running (correctly, more on that below) outside can actually help strengthen some of the most commonly weak postural muscles in the body.
So you are now convinced to take your run outside. Fantastic! Just a quick word…It is also possible to do the “fall and catch” outside as well. This usually occurs because the mobility in our hips and ankles restricts our body’s ability to move our legs in the appropriate way. So make sure you spend time opening up your hips (try these hip openers) and your calves. In fact, you can start right now with the exercise below!