Running Outside vs Treadmill Running

From the Desk of Dr. Len

Running Outside vs Treadmill Running

Dr. Len Lopez – Tuesday, November 26, 2013

There are benefits and reasons for running, sprinting outside, as there are for running on a treadmill. The biggest reason I prefer running outside over a treadmill is that it allows you to also tone and shape your butt muscles and hamstrings, which doesn’t happen when you train on a treadmill or elliptical machine, etc.

FYI….the four major muscle groups involved in running or walking outside are your quadriceps and hip flexors, which are responsible for pulling your leg forward and extending your leg.  Whereas your hamstrings and butt muscles are responsible for propelling your forward after your foot hits the ground.  It’s the contraction of the muscles on your backside that move your down the road…and the faster and harder you contract those muscles….the faster your run.

Treadmills are great and may be the best option for some people, but keep in mind that when you run on a treadmill, it’s the automatic movement of the machine/belt that throws your leg back for you.  Not the contraction of your hamstrings and gluteus muscles. Treadmills and other aerobic machines primarily target your quadriceps and hip flexors – and do very little for your hamstrings and butt muscles. This might explain to some of you who wonder why all those hours on those machines haven’t toned and tighten those butt muscles….can you say cellulite!

The video basically explains that when you walk, jog or run outside….it is the contraction of your hamstrings and butt muscles that propel you forward. Whereas on a treadmill the belt is throwing your leg back for you, which doesn’t require you to contract your hamstring or butt muscles.

Because the belt is automatically rolling back on its own, it inhibits the need for your butt muscles and hamstrings to contract.  This is basically why you don’t truly add as much shape and tone to your rear end running on a treadmill or any of the other aerobic conditioning machines out there.

I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve been told I’ve been exercising but I’m not really toning this area….to which I always say. If you want to get the proverbial two-for-one (cardiovascular and toning benefits), you need to walk, jog, or run outside.  

This should also explain why it is so much easier to run on a treadmill versus running outside….and why your heart rate is 10-15 points lower on a treadmill.  It’s because you’re not contracting all the major muscles responsible for running!  I like to think of running on a treadmill, like driving a two-cylinder car versus a four-cylinder car.  A two-cylinder engine doesn’t suck-up so much fuel, which is why you don’t feel nearly as drained running on a treadmill versus outside.  

Remember it’s about training and dieting smarter….not harder or longer!

If you feel this has been one of your mistakes, you might want to grab a copy of the “Ten Biggest Workout Mistakes” to help make sure you are getting the most out of your time, energy and effort.

Lastly, a big plus for walking, jogging or running outside is that you can also easily turnaround and go backwards. This is a great for helping you stretch your hip hip flexers, hamstrings, and achilles. It’s both a therapeutic exercise, as well as, a toning activity. Give it a try.


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