Knee pain (part 5) by Charles Alexander, DPT, PT
by jessicag, June 19, 2019
Treadmill vs. Free Running
One of the most common questions I get as a physical therapist has been about what style of running is better, using a treadmill or free running. For today’s blog post I will be talking about the pros and cons of treadmill running versus free running in hopes of helping others decide what might work best for them. There are several factors to consider in making this decision and can help all types of runners. Whether you are someone getting started with a new running routine or someone who is an avid runner training for marathons this blog post may help you decide what is best for you.
Questions To Get Started
- What do you enjoy?
- Why are you running?
- Do you have any discomfort while running?
When asked my professional opinion about treadmill running versus free running I will typically respond by asking the person which of the two activities they prefer to participate in. Personal preference is a huge motivation factor. I will also ask why they are running, for example is it for training purposes or for exercising in general. These two factors are going to be valuable input into which activity is going to be more appropriate for that individual. My next step is to ascertain if the individual has any discomfort or pain related to the ankle, knee, or the hip while running. This will help me note any contributing factors that will affect them running on a treadmill or outdoor running surface. It is important to remember that there are pros and cons for both aspects of running on a treadmill versus outdoors and what might be right for one individual may not be right for another.
The Pros of Treadmills
Treadmills are great for individuals who like routine, control, and prefer being indoors. Running on a treadmill provides a constant rate of speed which you have to maintain thus ensuring set parameters and ways to adjust your workout routine. Due to this amount of control, some individuals will argue that treadmill running is better for cardiovascular purposes and results in more calories burned. Another benefit of treadmills is that a person will not be limited by poor weather conditions since you can set up an indoor routine that is easy to maintain all year round.
The Cons of Treadmills
There are negative factors to consider with running on a treadmill as well. With treadmill running there is no air resistance, no changes in the surface that you run on, and changes to the muscular activation due to a machine activation of the belt. There are ways to help improve these factors. For example, to help negate the fact that there is no air resistance a recent study suggests that you must have at least a 1% incline with a duration of 5 minutes to ensure the same benefits of outdoor running. I personally favor 2-5% incline. Treadmill running also has the same consistent terrain and does not challenge the stability of the legs the same way that running on terrain does. Another drawback to treadmill running is the fact that a machine powers the belt. Due to the machine doing the movement of the belt you do not use as much of your hamstrings and instead use your quads to push off. So it is important to make sure that you incorporate some glute and hamstring exercises to help aid in the best activation of your hamstring and quad muscles. It is also important to weigh the cost of owning a treadmill or paying membership fees. Treadmill running may not be in the budget for all runners.
The Pros of Free Running
One of the greatest advantages to free running is going to be that it is a more natural experience. Many runners prefer the change in scenery compared to being in a stationary place. Free running is also know to help target more specific muscle groups for those who want to train for marathons. For individuals who enjoy being outdoors, it will also be a more enjoyable experience that they will be more likely to engage in more regularly. Outdoor running is also more cost-effective than owning a treadmill or having a gym membership to train to ensure you maintain your cardiovascular health.
The Cons of Free Running
There are also negative aspects to free running. One of the greatest concerns is being more prone to injuries. With running it is not uncommon to become absent-minded with listening to music and doing the same repetitive motion for the duration of the activity. For these reasons and the fact that the terrain is not as consistent as on a treadmill there is a greater risk of injuries. Another negative fact that needs to be taken into consideration is that running outdoors is going to be dependent on weather conditions. You cannot easily adjust the weather, terrain, or level of difficulty the same way you can on a treadmill.
Stay tuned for more information soon!