Running (jogging) is one of the first forms of exercise that individuals turn to when wanting to lose weight, improve conditioning, or get “in shape.” While going for a run (or a jog) can be beneficial for increasing energy expenditure and cardiovascular fitness as well as supporting body recomposition and transformation challenge goals.
It’s not the be-all, end-all mode of physical activity (“exercise”).
For example, instead of running around your neighborhood, you could also consider walking, jogging, or sprinting on a treadmill or wilderness trail.
Today, we’ll discuss the differences between treadmill, road, and trail workouts.
The Difference Between Treadmill, Road, and Trail Workouts
The first difference you’ll notice is that walking or running on a treadmill is considerably easier than embarking on the same activities outdoors. The reason for this is that the motor powering the treadmill belt helps propel your feet, thereby reducing some of the exertion (“work” and thus, calories burned) of your muscles.
Walking/running on a flat road is slightly more demanding than walking/running on a treadmill, and walking/hiking/running over a trail is the most challenging (and offers the best calorie burn!).
It should be noted that if you’re changing the elevation/intensity interval on the treadmill you can get a similar workout to training outdoors. However, the most important thing to consider is your level of intensity and effort, regardless of whether you’re training indoors or outdoors.
Now, let’s discuss the pros and cons of each training environment (treadmill, road, or trail).
Treadmills are a great option if you have a gym membership and/or live in an area with inclement weather for considerable portions of the year. They offer a smooth, consistent surface on which you can walk, jog, or sprint, and can be programmed for steady-state or interval training cardio workouts.
However, running on a treadmill can be awfully monotonous, and you aren’t getting the benefits of training outdoors (endorphins, vitamin D, “nature baths”, etc.). And, many individuals who invest in an at-home treadmill often use it only a few times before turning it into an overpriced piece of furniture to hang clothes on.
So, if you’re going to primarily use a treadmill (or other cardio machine), make sure to dial-up a motivational playlist and/or don’t be afraid to mix up your runs between slow/steady and intervals.
- Able to use no matter the weather outside
- Versatile speed and incline settings
- Easier on the joints thanks to a softer surface
- Can get boring/monotonous
- Lacks variation in terms of terrain (“real world”/functional training)
- Requires a gym membership or investment
- Most in-home treadmills rarely get used (i.e. wasted money/space)
- May disrupt normal gait
Outdoor training (whether on the road or on a trail) is fantastic -- you get the benefits of fresh air, and sunshine (Vitamin D) plus there’s no need to drive to the gym and sweat it out on a machine covered in hundreds or thousands of other individuals’ DNA (i.e. sweat).
Plus, if you’re seeking a similar aspect to the commercial gym environment, many local running clubs/group fitness classes meet on the road for workouts, which has the added benefit of accountability and increased intensity during training.
However, road workouts open you up to the possibility of rainy days and cold weather, which may dissuade you from wanting to wake up and get outside for your workout, thereby slowing your weight loss progress and delaying your results. (The good news is that you can always do an indoor at-home bodyweight workout to burn calories and stay on track with your fitness plan!).
- No equipment or gym membership required
- Sunlight exposure/Vitamin D benefits
- Research suggests exercising outside can reduce stress and boost mood
- Repetitive motion on a hard surface can hurt joints over the long-term
- Inclement weather can disrupt your typical exercise schedule or reduce your typical endurance/stamina
Trail workouts can be the most challenging terrain on which to train because of the uneven surfaces. Typically, trails are softer than roads (which are better for your joints), but their unevenness opens up the potential for rolling/spraining an ankle or falling.
But, exercising outdoors is known to relieve stress, boost endorphins, and enhance feelings of mood & well-being. Plus, there’s the added mental challenge of navigating uneven terrain and potential obstacles (fallen tree branches, roots, etc.), which sparks different proteins in your brain that enhance focus, concentration, and longevity.
One thing to keep in mind is the novel stimulus of training outdoors on uneven terrain may make you sore in places you forget ever existed.
- Real-world/functional fitness and training
- Added cardiovascular challenge compared to steady-state running
- More challenging on your leg muscles and core
- Improves balance, coordination, & body awareness
- Elevated mood boost from quality time spent outdoors
- Potential risk for injury due to uneven terrain
- Inclement weather could disrupt your workout
Any form of exercise (walking, running, resistance training, etc.) indoors or outdoors is better than no exercise. If you’re used to training exclusively indoors or outdoors, don’t be afraid to mix it up and see what added benefits can be obtained from introducing some variety into your workouts. After all, variety is the life of fitness!
Don’t forget that, no matter whether you’re training outdoors or indoors, you can track your results with the 1UP Fitness App. Plus, you can also track your nutrition, get customized exercise routines, and access to our exclusive group of trainers for added support, motivation, and encouragement!