When Running on a Treadmill is Better than Running Outside

Treadmills get a bad reputation. Except when it’s frigid outside – like during the recent cold snap across much of the United States – treadmills are avoided by most runners. However, the treadmill can be a useful training tool in your running arsenal.

Here are 5 times a treadmill run can be best running outside:

1. Hills – A good hill workout builds strength and speed. What do you do if there are no hills in your area? Often, you’re stuck finding the nearest parking deck or bridge overpass.

Enter the treadmill.

Tip: Incline the treadmill 2-5% for 0.5 mile increments to stimulate hilly runs. For hill sprints, try the incline between 5-7% while cranking up the speed. Focus on good running form – high knees and strong push forward with each stride.  

2. Tempo Runs – Tempo runs at a prescribed pace are a vital part of training. Sometimes the weather, terrain, or time of day makes running a prescribed pace outside difficult. For instance, an early morning runner (especially during the dark hours during daylight savings) may find it difficult to safely run at tempo speed. Or, icy roads (such as experienced in winter) can make tempo running speeds risky.

 Enter the treadmill.

 Tip: Warm-up for 2 miles and then increase the speed to your tempo pace. Take the opportunity to focus on form and the breath since you do not have to worry about the external environment. 

 3. Family Flexibility – Sometimes you just cannot run outside. Maybe you have little kids in the home and your spouse is traveling for work. Or, you have sick or restless kids and you cannot sneak out.

Enter the treadmill.

Tip: Personally, I will try to run in the morning or evening in these situations. Or, I’ll orient the treadmill so that I can watch the kids while I run. In any case, be flexible – odds you are will need to stop-and-start your run to take care of the kids. Try not to get frustrated – running is better that not.

4. Softer surface  Running on roads is hard on the body. Sometimes you need a break from running outside. Trail running is a great alternative; however, sometimes the nearest trail is hours away.

 Enter the treadmill.

Tip: Set the treadmill to 0.5-1% incline and then run. The slight incline is easier on the legs since the treadmill will not vibrate as much. Plus, the incline helps mimic extra effort required that overcome wind resistance that you would overcome running outside.

5. Practice Eating and Drinking – How do you eat and drink while running? It’s a skill unique to the running community. And, the more you practice, the better you get. You could stage aid stations along your run course. Sometimes that’s hard to do without help or running the same loop over.

Enter the treadmill.

Tip: Set-up your gels and water cups/bottles next to the treadmill (or the treadmill tray).  Practice your nutrition routine during a simulated long-run.

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