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When is a treadmill run equal to an outdoor run?

Summertime is here!

No more treadmill runs but now we can all enjoy the outdoors again. Northern hemisphere runners emerge to enjoy these lengthening days and pleasant temperatures. However, some of your running might not feel like it did on the treadmill over the course of the winter.

Running on a treadmill is different from outdoor running. On a treadmill, you experience:

  1. less vertical movement of the centre of mass

  2. longer ground contact time

  3. shorter stride length (Article).

Does that matter? Not necessarily. You can adjust your workouts to make sure you get similar benefits in your treadmill run as you would get from your outdoor run.

Even if you run at the same pace on a treadmill, you will generally expend more energy running outdoors. This is not only due to variations in terrain, weather, and wind conditions; the treadmill ultimately does a lot of the work for you by propelling you forward (Article). You just simply place your foot on the treadmill surface and it magically gets swept to the back-end of your stride. This leads to the above-mentioned changes in your gait.

To compensate for the easier physiological (but as any runner can tell you, not the mental) aspect of a treadmill run, you can do either of the following three things:

  1. Set the treadmill to a 1% incline to get the same energetic cost of treadmill running versus outdoor running (Article).

  2. Multiply your training time by 1.2 to get the same work-out cost as you would have gotten in an outdoor run (A 40-minute outdoor run equates to a 48 min treadmill work-out)

  3. Increase your tempo to 1.1 of that what you would normally run (Turning your 12.0km/h or 5 min/k pace in an outdoor run into a 13.2 km/h or 4.33 min/k pace treadmill run)

Happy Training!