The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Treadmills and Outdoor Running

Benjamin Button, isn’t in this story, but the other two are. Treadmill or outdoor running; which is better? It’s a question that often gets thrown around or argued over. So what’s the difference anyway??

Let’s explore below, to help ease your soul.

  1. Weather

One of the most obvious differences is the weather. Outdoor runs are at the mercy of our ever changing climate. While it can be glorious to run outdoors on a peaceful 18 degree summer’s morning, we can’t forget the possibility of a scorching Melbourne afternoon or miserable rainy winter’s day. Melbourne’s unpredictable forecasts can often prove a barrier for outdoor running. 

Indoor treadmill running on the other hand removes this barrier. Most fitness studios provide the standardised one-temperature-fits-all approach. Although this eliminates the risk of rain, wind or overwhelming heat; it can often go too far the other way with lack of airflow being a limiting factor to our running performance. However a thoughtful few will cater to the hardcore runner in us, installing much needed fans over the treadmill section. 

For treadmill running there are some cool locations popping up like The Run Club in Cremorne, offering supervised running classes ranging from 30 to 90 minutes in length. Sessions cater for all levels and the girls are offering the first week free. 

It is also interesting to note that hotter temperatures can negatively affect our running performance. The results of major marathons around the world have revealed better running performance in cooler temperatures with consistently faster winning times in the cooler conditions of countries such as Berlin.  Comparing temperatures and results of both marathon and sprint distance races also indicates that there is in fact an optimum running temperature. Best results were demonstrated between 9-11 degrees celsius for long distance marathon runners, or a surprisingly warm 22 for sprinters.*



2. Surface 

The outdoors provides a clear advantage in terms of variety, with options from softer grassy ovals, medium gravel paths or solid cement footpaths /bitumen roads. We can choose sloped, flat, or rough, more unpredictable trail running. 

Treadmills are more restrictive with gradients and have a consistent firm surface. This predictability can prove an ideal platform when wanting to monitor training or rehab loads closely. On the other hand, a runner returning from tendon injury may opt for softer grass/gravel options to minimise load early in rehab.   


3. Technique

Perhaps a more important detail to consider are the technique changes that can occur when running outdoors vs on a treadmill. 

It has been noted that any observed “faults” or issues noted in running technique outdoors can be seen to be slightly exaggerated in treadmill running.

Certainly someone with no previous experience on a treadmill can feel totally uncoordinated  when initially starting out on a treadmill. Like anything, it takes practice. However, I don’t think these factors should stop people opting for the treadmill. Professional athletes certainly still use treadmills frequently for their training. Plus if some sort of technique flaw is noted on a treadmill, this can be coached and corrected with improvements then being carried over to both treadmill and outdoor runs.

In many instances treadmill can also provide a great diagnostic and treatment platform for running injuries or coaching option for performance enhancement. The Running Company in Clifton Hill is a great example of a company optimising treadmill assessment to assist in fitting runners with the best shoes to optimise running performance and technique. The guys let you test running shoes on the in-store treadmill and provide assessment and advice on which shoe is best suited based on your performance and running needs.   


4. Rehab/Training 

Treadmill can provide a far more convenient and efficient tool for physiotherapists, coaches and trainers. Both speed and inclines can quickly be altered, in addition to eliminating the need for the observer to be running along side and juggling the tasks of keeping up, observing, and giving feedback/instructions for alterations. Nathan Fenton is a friend of ours who does run coaching on an assault treadmill. You can find him at Enfer Running in Richmond 

On top of this, the early exit option on a treadmill (just turn it off), can be hugely beneficial when rehabbing from an injury. This gives the runner the option to stop short if symptoms increase past a manageable level, rather than having to struggle to finish a run or hobble back to a starting point.

So what’s the verdict? 

Many can be quick to judge, and the current trend is heavily towards keeping things “organic” which might sway people towards the outdoor option. However, it is my opinion that either outdoor or indoor treadmill both provide excellent and appropriate running options. Consider which is best for your running needs and feel free to incorporate both options into your training regime. 

If you’re up for a challenge checkout  Oscars Hut 2 Hut race at Mt Buller on Feb 15 

If you’ve started feeling any niggles or developed an injury that’s getting in the way of your running you can book in to see one of our experienced physios at Evolutio Sports Physio in Richmond for full assessment, video analysis and rehab plan.

* Impact of Weather on Marathon Running Performance

Kristina Kluz

Kristina Kluz

Kristina or as we like to call her, Kris Kringle is our newest recruit here at Evolutio, flown in directly from Europe on the new Dreamliner. She’s been travelling and chasing winter snow seasons like the fellas off Hot Tub Time Machine since graduating Physio in 2012 and has worked at ski resorts as a physio in Japan and Austria in addition to the infamous Mt Hotham.

She now works at Evolutio Sports Physio here in Richmond, Melbourne on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, if you’re ever in need of a physio here in Richmond. Swing in and see her. Just make sure you bring sweet goods and sausage rolls as bribes.

You can book in with her here