The question: I run mostly on the treadmill, but my trainer told me that running outside is better. Is that true?
The answer: For readers who are familiar with my fitness philosophy, my initial response will come as no surprise: If using the treadmill means you move on a daily basis, go for it!
Never let a "what is better" debate become an excuse not to move. When it comes to exercise, something is always better than nothing. That said, there are definite pros and cons of both treadmill- and road-running. If running outside is feasible, and you use the treadmill because of mindless habit rather than necessity, consider mixing it up.
The obvious pros of the treadmill are convenience and safety. It offers a well-lit, slightly cushioned running surface that is predictable; it's ideal for those wary of tripping on uneven ground or slipping on ice, or nervous of running in the dark. Basically, it offers an excuse-proof go-to solution for when you feel like skipping a run because it is too [insert the excuse: too cold, hot, late, early, etc.].
Unfortunately, the treadmill alters muscles recruitment. Outdoors, you are propelled forward by your bum pulling your legs backward. On a treadmill, the belt pulls your legs backward and your hip flexors end up working overtime to resist the pull of the belt and pull your leg forward. To counteract this, aim to run outdoors when possible. All runners, but especially the ones who run on the treadmill, should prioritize strengthening their glutes (with squats, lunges and bridges) and stretching their hip flexors.
If you ever sign up for an outdoor running event, that will be the time to prioritize running outdoors. Pros such as a predictable running surface and being shielded from the elements become cons if you need to be prepared for uneven ground and braving the elements during your race.
Lastly, running is hard on the body, so don't forget to cross-train. Don't just run – take a spin class, try the indoor rower, strength-train or take a yoga class.
Trainer's tip: I aim to use the treadmill for no more than 20 per cent of my total runs. If that is not realistic for you, especially in the gross winter months, aim to run outside once per week. During indoor runs, gradually increase the treadmill's incline to 0.5 to 1.5. This will help mimic the demands of running outside.
Trainer's tip: Your activity level makes it imperative that you eat enough. Consider tracking your diet to ensure you are getting enough nutrients.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.
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