Project Description

Treadmill vs. Outdoor Exercise: Which Is More Effective?

Treadmills can make exercise more convenient. But using them may burn fewer calories than walking or running outside. Find out why and what you can do about it.


THE CLAIM: A treadmill workout is less effective than exercising outdoors.

For some people, using a treadmill makes them feel like a hamster in a wheel, so they prefer to walk or run outdoors. Others like the convenience and climate-controlled conditions that treadmills offer. But do these advantages come at a cost to your workout? Not necessarily, if you’re willing to take a few extra steps.

In general, you don’t have to work quite as hard on a treadmill as you would outside at the same pace, so you may burn fewer calories.

That’s because the belt helps move you along and there’s no wind resistance.

But increasing the incline slightly, to 1 percent, can help compensate for this.

Raising the incline can also make up for the fact that on a treadmill there are no variations in terrain, like the ones outside, to challenge your muscles.

On the other hand, a treadmill’s surface may be easier on joints than concrete or asphalt because the belt has more give.

Using proper form is crucial for getting an effective treadmill workout. That means not gripping the front or side rails while you exercise.

Holding on gives your muscles a partial free ride and reduces the number of calories you burn. It also causes an unnatural gait and can increase the risk of injuries.

Speaking of injuries, it’s not hard to lose your footing and fall off a treadmill if you’re distracted by something, whether your phone, the display, the TV remote, or another person. Of course, injuries can occur if you lose focus during outdoor exercise as well. That’s why it’s important to always pay attention to what’s around you and what you’re doing, wherever you work out.

For the truth about more fitness-related claims, check out my book, Fitter Faster. You’ll also learn how to slash your workout time and get even better results.

Helping you be a healthy skeptic, I’m Robert Davis.