Is running on a treadmill as good as running outside?

Some runners love treadmills and some runners loathe them as a training tool, but they do have benefits including safety and comfort when it's dark or in wet or cold weather, and the ability to control your training parameters.

Despite opposing opinions, research shows that running on a treadmill is the same as running outside, so long as you make some adjustments. Setting the treadmill to a one per cent incline mimics the effort you would have put in if you were overcoming wind resistance on an outdoor run. It also cancels out the help from the moving belt beneath your feet.

If like me, you're wondering whether your technique is affected by treadmill running, fear not. Research also shows that bio-mechanical patterns do not change when runners jog on a treadmill versus when they run outside.

No excuses

Veronika Larisova is an ultra-marathoner, exercise physiologist, personal trainer and nutritionist at Agoga, a functional training gym in Bondi. She says the number one benefit of a treadmill is that you can't use any common excuse for skipping a run.

"Good treadmills provide a softer landing for runners compared to bitumen or concrete, which helps to reduce impact on your joints and the lowers the chances of injuries such as knee pain and stress fractures," says Larisova.

"Treadmill running is also a great way to start working on your speed and endurance. Being able to adjust the settings is also a great tool in improving speed as you can see the increases visually."

Larisova says you can convert almost any outdoor running workout to the treadmill, but be sure to warm-up first with some dynamic stretches and a brisk walk or light jog for 15 minutes.

Here are four types of workouts that are ideal for indoor training.

Tabata for endurance – 4 minutes

20 seconds sprinting at the safest maximum speed possible then jump one foot on each side of the treadmill and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat eight times. Larisova says, "You can do this on incline as well, for a quick hill session."


Fartlek for speed – 20 to 30 minutes

This is one of the best methods for improving speed, endurance and stamina. It involves short bursts of sprints in your race-pace or tempo run. Unlike interval training where you alternate between a slow and fast pace, this workout will see you switching between a fast run and a sprint. Run at a fast pace for two minutes and then sprint for 30 seconds.

Hill sprints for stamina – 20 minutes

Larisova says this workout mimics an outdoor hill session. "Gradually increase the incline and sprint uphill for one minute as fast as you can and then jog downhill for one minute at moderate pace.

"The beauty of doing this session on a treadmill is that you can choose the incline and gradually build up to it."

She follows this incline workout: 4 per cent up, 0 per cent down, 6 per cent up, 0 per cent down, 8 per cent up, 0 per cent down, 10 per cent up, 0 per cent down, 12 per cent up, 0 per cent down, 10 per cent up, 0 per cent down, 8 per cent up, 0 per cent down, 6 per cent up, 0 per cent down and 4 per cent up, 0 per cent down (with the last one being a sprint).

Tempo for long distance

Training for long events such as half and full marathon should involve a weekly tempo run. A tempo run is a faster-paced workout also known as a lactate-threshold, LT, or threshold run.

Larisova says tempo running improves a crucial physiological variable for running success – your metabolic fitness.

"A tempo run is easy to do on a treadmill. Start with a jog and build up to a comfortably hard pace and then maintain it for 20 minutes," Larisova.

Spice it up

Larisova recommends spicing up your treadmill routine by including intervals instead of just jogging at a steady pace for a long time.

"Besides being boring, jogging slowly at a steady pace won't improve your speed or fitness," says Larisova. You get faster by running fast."

"Use the treadmills wide range of settings to have a play around with hills, pace, recovery ratios to have fun and get more bang for your buck."

Runner beware

Finally, if you're injured beware of cheap treadmills with a hard surface and not enough spring as they can be as hard as or even worse than running on concrete.

Do you train better on a treadmill? Let us know in the comments section. 

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

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