Cardio is an important aspect of fitness. Like any other part of working out, there are safety guidelines and recommendations as to how one should perform their cardio. One point of discussion I had with a colleague recently involved the difference between running under one’s own steam or using a machine, such as a treadmill, elliptical or tread-climber. So what, if any, is the difference?
Here’s the thing: I hate running. Like, with a passion! I have the center of gravity of a boulder and I tend to move like one as well. Cardio is simply a reality of my workouts and I often push myself to perform at least SOME level of cardio when the opportunity arises. For example, I make frequent use of my bicycle during the appropriate seasons. But you’ll very rarely see me run.
When I do run, I tend to favor the treadmill. The reasons behind this are quite simple. I get to have my water bottle and my music nearby, I can control the pace and incline AND I don’t have to deal with weather, stray animals or bad drivers. But there are significant advantages to running both on machines and outside.
For the most part, the important thing is to just get out there and exercise! If all you do is run on a treadmill, great! You’re already doing more than the average couch potato who does nothing. Treadmills are fantastic for a number of advantages, such as speed training. You can adjust the speed to increase or decrease at specific intervals, making for a nice interval workout. A treadmill provides a controlled environment. Treadmill and machine use in general tends to be a bit easier than running outdoors because the machine is technically pushing you along. That’s why it often feels as though you can run faster on a treadmill than you would outside. On the other hand, treadmills and cardio machines tend to be easier on the joints and body as they have more “give” to them when your foot hits the pad, as opposed to running on pavement, sidewalks or paths.
But before you go out and splurge on a machine to stick in front of your television, running outdoors has some significant advantages to it, as well. According to an article from WebMD, running outdoors will provide a better overall workout for a number of reasons. When running outside, you need to adjust for the terrain and changes in surface. This works different muscles in your feet and legs in a way that a treadmill can’t. The article also points out that running outdoors provides the opportunity to run downhill, which engages different muscle groups than flat running will provide.
Another difference is that you’re the one physically pushing yourself off the ground, as opposed to a machine that’s trying to push you backwards. As the article describes, “running outside stresses the body in a variety of ways […] Outside is tougher, but more rewarding.” The benefit of running on hills is also significant, since you can normally max out a treadmill at a 10 percent incline, but this doesn’t compare to running up a real hill.
The article also explains that if your primary goal is simply to improve your cardiovascular health, a treadmill is just fine. It also allows you the opportunity to run after dark or in inclement weather without having to face the elements. It’s an interesting article and worth a read, if running’s your thing: https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/is-it-better-to-run-outside#2
I still hate running. Nothing will likely change that, but as I always say, the important thing is to get up and do something. Whether you use a cardio machine, hit the outdoors or get in some weights or any other kind of workout, variety is the spice of life and what matters is that you do it. I’m sure if I had a treadmill sitting in front of my television, I could run while binge-watching Star Trek on Netflix. But the important thing is to stay active. ☯