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Running: Treadmill versus Pavement Which is Better For Your Knees?

Updated on July 9, 2013

Treadmill versus pavement - it is a complicated argument. Typically, runners love one and hate the other. Personally, I hate both. But if I have to run, it is anywhere but on a treadmill. I have never been able to simulate running while on a treadmill; and worse yet, when I am on a treadmill, it is more like plodding, flat-footed, awkward stomping.

Running has numerous physical benefits. It burns approximately 100 calories per mile, so it is one of the fastest ways to lose weight. It can build bone density, increase energy, build cardiovascular strength and even fight heart disease.

Of course, there are some dangers in running. Runners commonly suffer from over-use injuries in their muscles and joints. Occasionally, joggers are hit by vehicles. For the treadmill fanatic, the most common injury is falling off.

Treadmill Dancing - Don't Try This at Home!

According to some reports, snow is the most difficult terrain to run on, and grass is the easiest.

 

The Knee Joint

Joint Health

A common theory is that treadmills are easier on runners’ joints. The difference cited most often between treadmills and pavement is the effect on knees. In regards to their effect on knees, treadmills and asphalt terrain are almost equal. (TheWalkingSite.com, 2005). At gyms, most treadmills have a cushion under the treadmill belt; however, home treadmills rarely have a cushion. (Burfoot, A., 2006).

At the onset of knee problems, a doctor should be consulted. From personal experience, I can tell you that the sooner you see the doctor, the easier the problem is to fix. For an avid runner, glucosamine supplements should be considered. They will strengthen the cartilage surrounding the joints. Also, the muscles surrounding your knees should be strong and flexible through exercise and stretching.

On RunnersWorld.com, I read an article that reported that runners often shorten their steps when running on a treadmill. This could account for the decrease in injuries. (Burfoot, A., 2006). I learned firsthand, that shorter steps only mean more work for my legs.

Physical Differences

Running outdoors on pavement and running indoors on a treadmill have similar physical challenges, but there are some differences also.  On a treadmill, some energy is inappropriately spent.  Each time the runner’s foot lands on the belt, the belt goes backwards for a fraction of a second.  Though it is presumably a nominal difference, long periods of running will show a greater effect. (Orr, R.)

In order to correctly simulate the air resistance involved with outdoor running, a treadmill needs to be raised to a one or two percent incline.  This incline, however, causes shins and hip flexors to react differently than when outside, so it is not a perfect simulation. (Orr, R.)   If a runner lives in a cold weather climate and refuses to run in the cold, a treadmill is a good alternative.  However, the runner should expect that come springtime, there will be an adjustment period when returning to pavement.

Running outdoors on pavement provides physical challenges similar to those of running indoors on a treadmill, but running on pavement has more psychological advantages. 

Psychological Benefits

Running has many psychological benefits. It can improve sleep, create self-discipline, and provide a sense of accomplishment. It can be used to help with depression, anxiety and addiction. (Benefits of Running, 2006).

In terms of mental challenges, running on pavement surpasses running on a treadmill. The reasons are many: there are no televisions outdoors to help you tune out the pain; second, a treadmill electronically controls your pace, whereas on pavement, you have to focus on it. You have to consciously think about setting a pace and force your legs to move faster.

A third psychological advantage of running outdoors is the price. Except for shoes, it is free. Compared to running on a treadmill in a gym, running outdoors is like freedom - freedom from overcrowding, from time limits on cardio workouts, from travel time, from being surrounding by the smell of sweat and freedom from monthly dues.

At the end of the day, it is the runner’s choice when deciding whether to run outdoors on pavement or indoors on a treadmill. Although both are sufficient exercise, running on pavement gives a person the best workout for their time and energy. To receive all of the possible psychological benefits of running, find a nature path outdoors, breath in the fresh air, and run. Allow the freedom of your legs to take you wherever they may.

 

Which do you prefer?

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    • kjrzeek1 profile image

      kjrzeek1 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Nice Hub! Running outdoors is so much better for your body and mind! If you run outside make sure you change up your running surface to work all your muscles and prevent injuries.

    • profile image

      MiketheHoople 6 years ago

      I find that outdoor running is so much better for me because I'm not looking at a clock and timing myself. I also enjoy the people I meet in passing and the occasional loose dog gives me extra incentive to speed up!LOL

    • profile image

      Chandan 6 years ago

      I love outdoor running, it gives a sense of freedom, It gives some time away from the chaos of the city...

    • broussardleslie profile image
      Author

      Leslie Broussard 6 years ago

      Erik,

      I'm glad you have found a way to continue exercising!

      I, too, enjoy the elliptical. It seems easier on my knees.

      Enjoy your run!

      Leslie

    • profile image

      Erik 6 years ago

      I use the elliptical. I have Asthma and when I run on a treadmill or outside I have an asthma attack and have to stop running. But when using an elliptical I can go for over an hour and not have any breathing problems. I am not a doctor so my guess is that when running outdoors or on a treadmill I cause my lungs and whatever else to shake causing an attack. Like I said this is my guess, so if anyone else experiences this and actually knows why, let me know.

    • broussardleslie profile image
      Author

      Leslie Broussard 8 years ago

      No, I have not; I will look into it! Thank you! I am always looking for new books to read.

    • Jeff May profile image

      Jeffrey Penn May 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Have you read "Born to Run" yet? Fantastic book, especially for runners.

    • broussardleslie profile image
      Author

      Leslie Broussard 8 years ago

      Thank you for visiting my hub, Paul. I appreciate you adding personal experience!

      If I ever run again, I think I will try to run on grass.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Blessings,

      Leslie

    • Paul Marshall profile image

      Paul Marshall 8 years ago from Australia

      I spent almost 15 years in the Army, so I know a little about this subject. I had to run because I was ordered to do so. I also have had the reconstrutive surgery on both knees to prove that it is not such a great idea. I still stay in shape, & I still run, but these days my approach is a little different. I tend to do more of a very fast shuffle rather than full fledged run, and I try to run on the grass, not the pavement. Best results that I have though is a very brisk walk {almost jog pace} with a light weight in each hand. This method also gets the heart rate well up, and does not have the same impact on the knees.

    • broussardleslie profile image
      Author

      Leslie Broussard 8 years ago

      Scott,

      Thank you for always reading my work.

      I have heard that shoes make a huge difference, especially with regards to how you land on your feet (overpronating?).

      I'd be interested to hear more about this native american style of running; what do you they do differently?

      Thanks for your comment!

      Leslie

    • broussardleslie profile image
      Author

      Leslie Broussard 8 years ago

      Teacher,

      I enjoy walking, too! Especially with my husband and four-year-old.

      My personal preference when working out is the elliptical machine. It is much easier than a treadmill, but still works my legs and lungs - especially if I go backwards.

      Thank you for your comment; I appreciate you reading my hub.

      Leslie

    • profile image

      Scott.Life 8 years ago

      Running outside did bother my knees until I changed my shoes and adopted a better form closer to the style that native americans use when running long distance. Now I can run for miles without discomfort and actually enjoy it.Great Hub Leslie

    • green tea-cher profile image

      green tea-cher 8 years ago

      I love walking. I have tried jogging, but I just don't enjoy it. In my short experience with it the outdoors is much more enjoyable than treadmill, but I found the treadmill way easier than propelling myself on my own strength.

    • broussardleslie profile image
      Author

      Leslie Broussard 8 years ago

      Jeni,

      Thank you for stopping by! Nice to meet you ;)

      It is interesting that the outdoors affects your asthma, but not a treadmill. Maybe that "air resistance" I referenced?

      Thank you for leaving a comment; it is nice to know who reads my hubs.

      Thank you.

      Leslie

    • broussardleslie profile image
      Author

      Leslie Broussard 8 years ago

      Dohn:

      Thank you for reading my hub.

      Personally, I hate all running :)

      Your line about the conversation with the gecko made me laugh!

      Thank you for leaving a comment.

      Have a great night.

    • JeniMarie17 profile image

      Jeni H 8 years ago from Florida

      I love treadmills just because my asthma acts up less compared to me running out doors! but loved the hub!

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      I definitely prefer the great outdoors! I must say, this will really discourage some of us!:

      Occasionally, joggers are hit by vehicles.

      Wow. That's gonna be a tough conversation with that TV gecko!

      Thanks for the hub! You did an awesome job explaining the benefits of both.

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