Germs aren’t the only reason you might want to consider running away from the treadmills at your local gym. Turns out pounding in place isn’t exactly joint-friendly, and it doesn’t use the same muscles used when running outdoors. Not to mention that a workout program exclusively focused on cardio-based running is incomplete. Alex Fell, founder of Warrior Fitness Boot Camp, an indoor obstacle course workout based on United States Marine Corps training, spoke to The Cheat Sheet more in depth about the reasons you might want to reconsider treadmill running.
1. Treadmills are expensive
Treadmills and gym memberships can be expensive. You can run outdoors, and it costs you nothing! Walk outside and the whole world is your treadmill. Try interspersing your running regimes with various road/trail-side exercises, like squats, lunges, alternating knee touches, or — if you’re willing to get a little down and dirty — ab routines. These will help to activate additional muscle groups while infusing your run with a bit of intrigue, all while keeping your financial investment at zero.
2. Treadmills can be boring and monotonous
You are limited to staring at what’s in front of you. Running and exercising outside provides not only a change in scenery, but can also result in significant proven benefits, including improved mental health, lower depression, heightened immunity, increased ability to focus, and better bone health. Instead of remaining inside — or even within your local neighborhood surroundings — try taking it one step further and heading out on a trail run in nature. Studies have shown that just looking at photos of nature can lower blood pressure, so imagine what running through it will do.
The fresh air and oxygen rich environment of the unpolluted nature will also help make your run easier and prove better for your body overall. An added benefit: Because studies have shown that the positive effects of working out outside are more restorative than those obtained from working out indoors, you will naturally be drawn to replicate an experience you found overwhelmingly positive in the first place. For anyone struggling to motivate themselves to workout on a routine basis, heading outside can actually help ensure that you will do it again.
3. Treadmills do not provide strength training
Strength training is critical to keep your body strong and injury-free. There are only so many things that you can do on a treadmill. Stepping off of the treadmill and adding some free weights or bodyweight plyometrics can give you that tight, toned body you’re working for in addition to preventing injuries while running. Obstacle courses are a great way to engage in a variety of movements that activate a wide range of muscles in a way that simply running on a treadmill cannot.
With obstacle training, you will be engaging in both strength and cardiovascular training in a way that mimics many team sports – so they’re ideal if you’re looking to train for another athletic activity as well. Obstacle courses can also be easy DIY activities to do with friends, family, and even children. Set up a few hurdles using items laying around the house, pull out the old underused hula hoop, or make the best of an outdoor playground to find ways to creatively engage both your mind and your muscles.
4. You do not use the same muscles running on a treadmill as you do outdoors
When running on uneven ground, as you do when you run outside, you utilize the small muscles all over your body that stabilize you and keep you agile while navigating different, unique terrains. Running on a treadmill, because it is a flat, even surface, can actually cause you to lose some of the agility that running outdoors ensures. You fail to activate your glutes and hamstrings, leaving certain muscles untrained. Being beholden to the belt can also result in injuries. The lack of variety during treadmill running can also result in strain injuries obtained from repetitive stress on the exact same joints — something against which outdoor surfaces can help prevent. Soft outdoor surfaces can also help cushion the repeated blow in a way that treadmill conveyor belts cannot.
5. You burn more calories running outside than you do on a treadmill
You burn more calories when you run outdoors because you have to work harder in order to move your body. While you can still burn many calories by running on a treadmill, the conveyor belt forces you to move your legs; however, when exercising outside, you must do all of the work to move your legs and you are also often encountering wind resistance, which impacts the effort you expend. If you’re committed to the treadmill, you can engage additional muscles in a manner reflective of outdoor running if you set your treadmill to an incline — 1% should do the trick and most closely mimic the energy expended at the same pace while running outdoors.
6. Treadmills can make you lazy
If you’re looking to establish and improve certain instinctive running habits, running on a treadmill allows for a detrimental degree of laziness that can hinder this progression. The automatic settings on treadmills allow you to disregard pacing and prevent you from establishing a pace of your own. If you’re looking to train for races or create an internal pacing instinct, treadmill running can actually harm this process. Running outdoors, without a set “number,” will allow you to establish a pace with which your comfortable and that you can maintain and replicate for future runs.