Running Tips – When to Choose the Treadmill

This post has been scheduled for a while, so it’s pure coincidence that I’m publishing it just a day after Snowpocalypse 2015…or am I psychic? Either way, it’s perfectly timed to give you advice on when to choose the treadmill.

Running Tips - When to Choose the Treadmill. Sometimes it's obvious when it's a better idea to run indoors. But when you're struggling to decide between heading out to your favorite trail, or the nearest mill, this is a good guide to keep handy.

Now, I am no Kim Turner – there’s no way you’ll find me running a cool 45 miles (!!) on a treadmill in one workout. But ever since the ridiculous polar vortex winter of 2013-14, the treadmill and I have agreed to set aside our differences and have a little mutual respect and courtesy for each other.

Sometimes, it’s obvious when you need to choose the treadmill. You’re home alone with a sick child who just went down for a nap and you have a treadmill? Then you don’t need me to tell you now’s a good time to use it! But when you’re struggling to decide between heading out to your favorite trail, or the nearest gym, this is a good guide to keep handy.

There are 5 criteria that are important to consider when you’re deciding to run indoors or outside. You know your comfort level best, so listen to your gut. When it comes to safety, though, if you’re wavering, it’s usually a better idea to take your workout inside.

Running Tips - 5 Reasons to Choose the Treadmill. Sometimes it's obvious when it's a better idea to run indoors. But when you're struggling to decide between heading out to your favorite trail, or the nearest mill, this is a good guide to keep handy.

Weather Conditions

One runner’s light shower is another runner’s torrential downpour. If you’re used to running in the rain, the snow, the heat – basically in extremes – and you’re well prepared, then there shouldn’t be a reason to choose the treadmill. Here are the questions to consider when it comes to weather conditions:

  • Have you run in these conditions before?
  • Are you prepared for running in those conditions? (For example, do you have the appropriate clothing, gear, fuel, water?)
  • Do you know what it actually feels like outside, beyond the number on the temperature gauge? Remember, humidity and wind chill are both factors that can make a run brutal.

For more tips on running in extremes, check out 10 Expert Tips for Cold Weather Running, as well as Tips to Beat the Heat.

Safety Concerns

It’s usually a simple decision in your own neighborhood when assessing the safety of your run. You know the area, you know your routes, you know when you feel safe and when you don’t. When deciding if it’s safe to run outdoors, keep these points in mind:

  • Do you know this area well? Is there a chance you will get lost? Do you know if there are any areas it may be unsafe to run?
  • What are the roads and trails like? Adequately lit? Heavy car traffic? Well populated by other runners, walkers and cyclists? Are there shoulders to run, or lots of blind corners? Are trails well-marked?
  • Consider the time of day – if it’s pre-dawn, night, or dusk, will you be visible to drivers? Have you run that route at that time of day before and feel comfortable?

When it comes to safety concerns, I’m a big believer in really listening to your instinct. If there’s any part of you that feels a little off about a planned run, head to the treadmill. Check out these great posts as well: Self Defense Classes and Tips for Runners, from rUnladylike, Safety Tips for Female Runners from You Signed Up for What? and 9 Crucial Safety Tips for Runners, from my column on The Stir.

Timing

There’s nothing worse than doing an out-and-back and realizing at the turnaround point, when you’re furthest from home, that you don’t have as much time as you anticipated. This is one of several things to consider when deciding between running outside and on a treadmill when it comes to timing:

  • Do you run by mileage or time? Can you pace yourself appropriately for either an out-and-back, or a loop route to make sure you don’t run out of time?
  • Are you coming back from an injury, or starting to feel a little niggle somewhere? Can you be sure you’ll be okay to complete your outdoor run?

Obviously, if you have no time commitments, then you may as well stick to outdoors – even if you’re slower than planned, or you need to rest or stretch for a bit, or you just want to soak in a view, then you have no worries. But if you’re trying to squeeze in a run in a jam-packed day, weigh up your options first.

Runner’s World gives you pros and cons of time versus distance: Running for Time vs. Distance. And just for fun: If a girl goes for a run without GPS – did the run really happen? 

Running Tips - 5 Reasons to Choose the Treadmill. Sometimes it's obvious when it's a better idea to run indoors. But when you're struggling to decide between heading out to your favorite trail, or the nearest mill, this is a good guide to keep handy.

Workout Type

I don’t mind doing speed work on a treadmill because it keeps me from getting bored. A long run inside would be my idea of hell. But every runner is different – if you know you can run forever on a treadmill when you can throw a towel over the display and not think about it again, then a long run workout would be a good time to choose the treadmill. Some other thoughts on choosing the right option for workout type:

  • How accustomed are you to what a certain pace feels like? If you’re new to speed work and intervals, you may want to try it on a treadmill first so you can get your confidence level up at fast paces before heading outside.
  • Likewise, if you don’t have access to a track, or you’re finding it impossible to map out a particular interval distance, like 600 meters, on a flat surface outside, it may be a good time to take that workout indoors where the math is taken care of for you.

Check out these posts for more info on speed work and pacing: Running Tips: Intervals for Beginners, as well as Speed Workouts for the Track Deprived.

Motivation

Finally, what’s your motivation for your run today? What do you want to achieve – a meditative state? A solid workout? Just want some time to yourself? Consider your motivation when choosing the treadmill:

  • What are you running for? Going for a run because you feel like it is a different proposition than training for a race. If you can simulate race conditions by running outside, then that’s your best bet. If you’re running for fitness, or just because you feel like it, then the treadmill is a viable option.
  • Do you have your best runs outside, or indoors with distractions?
  • What do you feel like doing today? Sometimes I’m not bummed out if I know I can’t get out for a run until the evening, because I can OD on HGTV on the treadmill TVs. But if the weather’s gorgeous, I might try to rearrange my time so I can take advantage of the park.

Four workouts to try on the treadmill: Running Tips – The Best Treadmill Workouts. And check out Shut Up & Run’s post on Why I Love the Treadmill So Much It Hurts.

 When do you choose the treadmill?

What else would you add to this list?

Has there ever been a time when you regretted your choice either to run outside or indoors?

Comments

  1. Great tips! With the colder temps and ice/snow in many places, as well as time of day people can run, the treadmill can be our friend. I’ve been fortunate lately that I haven’t had to do many runs on the treadmill, but I often do speed and tempo work on the treadmill to keep me honest now and then. Thanks also for the shout-out to my post on running and personal safety. I’m so glad you highlighted safety as a focus area as it is so important. Have a great week and run safe out there! xoxo
    Jesica @rUnladylike recently posted…Every Day is Progress: Week-in-Review & Link-upMy Profile

  2. HaHa – I love this list!!! You know I’m pretty much going to pick the treadmill all the time unless I’m running with one of my boys or someone else or all the conditions are “perfect.”
    Kim recently posted…Missing: My Morning MojoMy Profile

  3. I love all these tips! I had a very hard loving the treadmill until I had the reasons to use it. I used it all last winter to train for my marathon in freezing snow covered Boston. I was just glad I had a treadmill to use so I COULD still run!

    And totally love the Garmin photo. So true.
    Melissa @ Freeing Imperfections recently posted…Single Serving Whole Wheat Oat PancakesMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      Oh man, I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it must have been to marathon train on the treadmill. I remember reading some of your posts from that time and just feeling so bad for you!

  4. I completely agree! I’m depending on my treadmill a lot lately because I don’t like to run in the dark. Since I do most of my running early in the morning I’m spending a lot of time on the ‘mill! I don’t mind it though, and it makes the weekend long run outside even more enjoyable!
    Angie @ A Mother’s Pace recently posted…Why I Live with #NoExcusesMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      Yes! Definitely it helps make the outdoor running that much more wonderful because you realize what a treat it is.

  5. Awesome tips Carly! I have been spending a ridiculous amount of time on the treadmill lately and I don’t like it! but its really my only chance and getting a halfway decent training before my race in 3 weeks. Waiting patiently for March, Daylight savings and anything over 40 degrees!
    Nellie @ Brooklyn Active Mama recently posted…Fitness Goals Check! How Are You Doing So Far?? #Achieve15My Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      It will be here before you know it, Nellie!! (both your race and the better conditions for NYC runners!). Bring on Daylight Savings, for sure.

  6. Great tips. I made an agreement with myself this year, I will run outside in regardless of the temperatures but if there is heavy snowfall causing footing to get difficult I’ll take it inside. Wouldn’t you know it, the temperatures have been crazy cold but we’ve had very little snowfall 🙂
    Leanne recently posted…2015 Book Club: January’s Book ReviewMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      The universe was listening! And decided to teach you a lesson! 😉 I don’t mind the cold if I have the right gear on, but the ice/snow/sleet/dark is a bit much for me, so I guess I’m in the same boat.

  7. All great tips, especially for a runner who loathes the treadmill. I’ve been running on mine a bit more than I usually 2. I’m doing one speedwork session/week and with the ice and snow, it’s too hard to do outside in the winter. I’m also in training for a Florida half, and I’m attempting to “heat” acclimate by running for an hour with heavier clothing than I’d normally wear for an indoor run. Challenging for sure! I hope it’s worth it.
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…Constant craving….My Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      I have to say, I’ve run down in Florida in June and in October and both times the heat has been such a killer for me. I’m guessing the heavier clothing is really all you can do to try to prepare. Speedwork is definitely the workout I enjoy most on a treadmill because it keeps my mind busy as well.

  8. im not a big fan of treadmill but sometimes its a nice change.
    Dixya @ Food, Pleasure, and Health recently posted…Cauliflower, Leek and Cheddar SoupMy Profile

  9. I like how you broke it down. Another question for me is if I have something good on the DVR to watch while I’m on the TM!
    Coco (@Got2Run4Me) recently posted…Healthy Slow Cooker Recipes — Pork And Bean StewMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      Yes, that’s key! For the longest time I used the treadmill at a gym that didn’t have TVs and it really contributed to my loathing of them. Now, the gym I go to has one per mill and it makes ALL the difference.

  10. I prefer running outside to the treadmill…I can barely stay on it for 3 miles, let alone 45. Kim is amazing! This time of year with the snow and ice, I just don’t have a comfort zone for running outside. One because I have a fracture in my neck and I have to be careful about falling, and two because there is no shoulder on the side of the road here and literally no where to go if a car starts to slide. So once the snow hits, I put on my snowshoes. It’s a great workout, even if it’s not quite the same as running.
    Michelle @ A Dish of Daily Life recently posted…Florida Grapefruit and Beet Salad with a Grapefruit VinaigretteMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      Kim is like some kind of running wonder woman when it comes to the treadmill!! 45 miles is so beyond my comprehension and to do it on a treadmill?? Woah.

  11. I am admittedly not a fan of the treadmill but I appreciate that it allows me to continue running during our brutal New England winters. I have six miles scheduled for tomorrow and am still undecided if I want to brave some side streets or play it safe on the treadmill. We’re getting another 12+” on Monday so it may be my last chance to attempt it. I don’t mind cold temps but some areas are a bit iffy safety-wise. I have found that listening to podcasts while on the treadmill helps pass the time a little differently than listening to music. All good tips!
    Emilie recently posted…2015 Goals: January Check-InMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      I just finished the Serial podcast not so long ago and wow did that keep me entertained! There were a couple of times I worked out just a little bit longer to see what happened next. I have to find the next podcast that will do the same for me!!

  12. What about the fact that the treadmill is not a natural movement and throws off body alignment. I know getting a workout in is so important but the more I read on exercise equipment and body alignment the more concerned I am about using equipment and its impact on my body. I know I have decided when I can’t get out I have decided to do interval workouts using weights and exercise bands rather than my exercise equipment.
    Hannah recently posted…Health(ier) ChocolateMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      Treadmill running can be a very different way of running than running outdoors – but not always. The main differences – and the ones that would definitely make me think twice about using the treadmill for the majority of training for an event, for example – would be that the track moves under you, instead of your impact propelling the movement; and that factors like wind resistance, uneven road/trail surfaces and incline/undulation can’t be mimicked very accurately.

      In terms of whether it throws off body alignment – there don’t seem to be any studies that suggest this is the case with treadmill running. It definitely can change the way someone runs – if you check out this clinical study: http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/9839841 – you’ll see the researchers found that the participants’ gait changed on a treadmill, with less leg swing, more forward lean and less up-and-down motion. It didn’t seem to affect the impact of muscular use overall though.

      This more recent study: http://img2.timg.co.il/forums/1_162564498.pdf specifically measured the kinematic differences between treadmill and ground running and found while there were some differences, specifically in joint power and trajectory, statistically speaking, there wasn’t much difference between treadmill versus outdoor. (What I found most interesting in this study was that there was a 50/50 split as to whether running gait changed in the participants, so it’s definitely possible to keep the same gait/technique of running on a treadmill, although my guess is that requires more thought than zoning out to a TV show!)

      I would say the most important part of the decision if you’re concerned about body alignment is assessing the quality of the treadmill. Is it a recent model? Does it have a firm surface? Is the incline adjustment smooth or jerky? You’d probably also want to use it for shorter periods of time so you can focus on your form.

      In general, though, the research seems to lean towards it being a viable alternative for runners who want to get their training done and aren’t able to train outside, for whatever reason. Unless you’re training for a specific event, if you feel more comfortable sticking to interval training, or bodyweight training, or plyometrics for your cardio when you’re stuck indoors, then stick to what you prefer! 🙂

  13. I really appreciated this article–I signed up for a half marathon in mid March in a warm climate to keep me motivated during the cold winter months. It’s going to be -11 degrees where I’m at tomorrow so the treadmill has been my only option for the past few weeks and the next few weeks as well! Thanks for for the positive and encouraging words!

  14. Carly, great post! I recently bought a treadmill and it is helping me lose weight faster!

    Anyways, What treadmill do you use regularly? (as in the make and model?)

    Thanks

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