Trails vs. Treadmills
I wanted to figure out why people preferred one over the other and if possible, whether one is better for your body. When I asked Karl Schmidt of the Cal Poly Distance Club, he said he prefers trail running.
“Each trail is different from the others, some have hills some don’t. One trail isn’t the same as another,” Schmidt said. “Running on a treadmill is a bit repetitive just staying in the same spot.”
I would only run on a treadmill if the weather is really bad. I’ve seen people watch TV on a treadmill so maybe I would run if a good show was on. – Karl Schmidt
I then asked another Cal Poly Distance Club runner, Ryan Suarez, which he prefers. Suarez also said that he prefers trail running.
“You get the breeze and the scenery to look at and you’re going places. Whereas on a treadmill I feel like I’m staying in my own humidity,” Suarez said. “The clock on the treadmill might move slower when I’m on it, it might even go backwards.”
Treadmills and trail running each have benefits but I think you’re more at risk of an injury on a trail because there are uphills and downhills or you can step on a rock funny. Then again, when you’re running on a trail you’re running more naturally, Suarez said.
If you’re feeling good on a trail run you can pick up the pace. On a treadmill you can only go as fast as you set it to. The treadmill controls your run. – Ryan Suarez
After getting responses from a few runners, I asked Cal Poly Distance Club Head Coach Armando Siqueiros, or “Coach Mando,” what he thinks are the pros and cons for trail running versus running on a treadmill.
I believe in exercise. In this day and age it is not always easy to get outside and exercise, therefore I would use a treadmill if that was the way I could get my exercise. I think being outside in the fresh air, especially away from cars and traffic has a soothing effect on the mind. – Coach Mando.
I also had the pleasure of talking to Cal Poly Kinesiology Lecturer Jenny Olmstead on the pros and cons to trails versus treadmill running.
With treadmill running there is a lack of exposure to extreme weather which allows a more tolerable experience to those with asthma due to cold weather, Olmstead said. Treadmills provide a smooth cushioned surface that may reduce risk of injury to joints and soft tissue while also allowing the runner controlled speed and pacing. Treadmill running may expend less total calories than outside running and motivation might be lower given the monotony of treadmill running, she said.
Trail running is more technical given the various surfaces, obstacles, and foot strike positioning. It improves proprioception; positively affecting balance, power, and running economy, Olmstead said. Psychological research supports that running outdoors might increase motivation and feelings of well being greater than running indoors on a treadmill, she said.
Moving from treadmill to outside or treadmill to trail running will require transition time. Doing too much too fast can aggravate or cause injuries or inflammation. Proper supportive footwear is recommended for more technical trail running. – Olmstead.
In the end…
Though I wish there was a definite better option between the two, there are pros and cons to both sides. It is more of a psychological decision then physiological.
Here are a few articles that also compare trail running to treadmills: