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Transitioning from the Treadmill to Running Outdoors

10 June, 2020

Are you beginning to train for that 5k in the spring? Let’s get you off the treadmill and outdoors! It’s a common mistake to assume that running on a treadmill directly mimics running outdoors.

Are you beginning to train for that 5k in the spring? Let’s get you off the treadmill and outdoors! It’s a common mistake to assume that running on a treadmill directly mimics running outdoors. Running outside is very difficult on the body and if you don’t create a routine that steadily prepares you, you’re more likely at risk for serious injuries. If you’re ready to transition from the treadmill to outside, read on for a few tips and helpful guidelines to prepare you!

The Difference Between Indoor and Outdoor Running

Running outdoors requires a significant amount of stress on the tendons, muscles and ligaments that your body is not prepared for if you’ve only been training indoors. As you run on a treadmill, your feet run parallel to the biomechanical belt. Running outside allows for your feet to curve outward instead of pointing straight, making it feel slightly more natural as you propel yourself forward.

In addition to the surface on which you run on, a treadmill is constant unlike the fast-changing variables outside due to different weather conditions and terrains. The energy cost of running on the treadmill is often lower than running outside. This is because you don't have to push against air resistance indoors. It is best to be aware of these variables and to focus on building up aerobic capacity at a slower pace.

Benefits to Running Outdoors

There are several benefits to training outdoors. The first being that your body is going to activate more muscles because you’re not moving linearly. Your feet have to grab the ground to propel you forward which in return helps to increase balance and awareness of the changing surfaces.

Second, it increases oxygenation. A crowded, enclosed gym means more carbon dioxide and less oxygen. Breathing fresh air affects your performance, giving you the energy and stamina you need to keep moving.

Lastly, running outside involves a visual perception that is lacking indoors which in return promotes more dissociative thinking with greater overall visual stimulation. Basically, that means running outdoors allows you to notice your surroundings as a way to focus on something besides your tired muscles and heavy breathing.

Our bodies expend less energy running on a treadmill than outdoors. The different terrains outside also have an effect on our bodies. The unstable surfaces require the stabilisers in our hips and ankles to work a little harder causing us to be more sore than usual. In this situation, try using BioFreeze Roll-On to relieve the sore muscles in your lower body.

Helpful Tips to Begin Your Transition to Running Outdoors

Treadmill running is not necessarily bad for you as it does help many people in rehabilitation or in the initial process of training for a competitive race. It’s also a popular option during colder winter months when running outside isn’t as favorable. If you don’t have access to a steep hill or an incline that is long enough, the treadmill allows you to create your own using the incline setting.

However, the treadmill has maximum incline and speed settings. It is also not capable of simulating downhill running, which is an essential part of any training program. The machine can also be monotonous, offering little to no variation and ultimately decreasing the motivation to continue running.

If you’ve been doing nearly all of your training indoors, you need to be cautious as you begin to move outside. It is advised that you transition gradually in order to avoid a resulting injury. It’s important to train by effort rather than pace. So, start with one or two of your easy, shorter runs per week outside and build from there. You can also split your runs - some kilometres can be completed on the treadmill and the rest outside. Below are five tips to get you started on creating your own routine for outdoor running.

5 Tips to Get You Started & Reduce Your Risk of Injury

  1. Reduce Your Intensity Level. Transitioning from the treadmill to the outdoors may be more challenging due to different weather conditions. The temperature feels warmer indoors, allowing your body to relax any tension. Outside, the colder temperatures will require reduced intensity in the beginning. Adjusting the intensity level helps acclimate your body temperature as you continue to run.
  2. Start with Decreased Time Intervals. Start your transition from running inside by alternating one or two shorter runs on the treadmill with a few outdoor runs for the first few weeks. As you continue running outdoors, lengthen your time intervals to 20-30 minutes.
  3. Switch-Up Your Workouts. While treadmills offer incline and decline settings, the gym training equipment can’t match the undulating gradients that a road or outside trail can offer. It benefits you to mix in a variety of running workouts with hills, speed intervals, and inclines.
  4. Reduce Impact with Soft Surfaces. Seek out softer surfaces to run on such as a dirt path or porous track before running on harder, more uneven surfaces outdoors. Your joints and muscles will adapt, allowing for you to transition to more difficult roads and trails. If you experience any pain after those more difficult terrains, TheraBand Foot Roller can help provide a gentle foot massage that alleviates any discomfort and soreness.
  5. Strengthen Your Muscles and Joints. Prepare your body with stretching and strength training to build agility and balance needed for running outdoors. These different exercises will allow you to cover longer distances with reduced risk of strains and muscle soreness. Equipment such as the TheraBand CLX can help offer resistance as you exercise strength, flexibility, and recovery.
Fitzgerald, Matt. (2019) Equating Treadmill and Outdoor Running. ACTIVE. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/33Xo0ZE.
Maharam, Dr. Lewis. (2014). The Running Doc’s Guidelines for Transitioning from Outdoor Running to a Treadmill. Daily News. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/38e98cJ.
Schuler, C. Thomas. (2016). 6 Tips to Transition From Treadmill to Outdoor Running. Virginia Spine Institute Articles. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/36kWI15.
Unknown. (2017) From Treadmill to Outdoor Running. Women’s Running Magazine. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2OXjbLO.
Unknown. (2019). Preventing Running Injuries. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://cle.clinic/38gln8r.

Medical Disclaimer: The information provided on this site, including text, graphics, images and other material, are for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
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