Track or Treadmill?

Running can vary a lot based on whether you run on a track or a treadmill. Some of the differences can have a physiological impact, and some are based entirely on preference. Some people are fiercely loyal to one, and some people rotate between the two. I realize that running on a trail or something outdoors is an option too, but that adds several more factors into the equation. For the purpose of this post, I will stick to the two indoor options.


Treadmills are beneficial if you’re in the city and concrete or asphalt are the only available running surfaces. Treadmills have a level of suspension to take stress off the joints, whereas your joints take the full impact on concrete. You can maintain a precise pace on a treadmill, chance the incline and customize interval programs. However, sometimes you can also get the sense of feeling like you’re not going anywhere. You can’t make any quick changes, because the machine always takes a few seconds to adjust the speed or height.

Treadmills can affect your foot’s natural pronation, which is essentially how the ankle bends as you walk or run, by causing a stomping effect. A treadmill has no air resistance, so it’s slightly easier to run. This also causes you to be a lot more sweaty, because the air isn’t drying you off as you run. On a treadmill, the belt under your feet has a lot of momentum, and you don’t have to push off as hard or apply as much force to keep moving at the same speed. The anatomy of a treadmill is further explained here. Some people suggest putting the treadmill at a 1-2 percent incline, which somewhat equals the difficulty level of running on a track, even if there are still some physiological differences.

Side note: People sometimes bring treadmills into various places like an office, where you can walk and get exercise without constantly pacing back and forth to the fax machine. For an amusing article on this, click here.


When you’re running on a track, you’re actually pushing away from the ground, and in doing so you’re propelling your body forward, expending more energy. Your body moves much more naturally than on a treadmill because of this. Your arms get more of a workout too, because pumping your arms helps you propel forward. A track is useful if you plan to have a workout with a lot of quick changes. However, some people find circling a track boring and monotonous too. Others find the track intimidating, knowing you can’t completely be in your own little world like on a treadmill. They might get discouraged when people pass them, but they might also be empowered if they pass other people.

I am a very goal-oriented person, so counting laps is a lot more rewarding for me than watching numbers slowly click by on a treadmill. I often run at the indoor track at Gregory Gym, because the monotony of the treadmill bores me to tears. I would run outside more often, but then I have to pay attention to where I’m going, and that doesn’t always work out so well when I’ve got the Beach Boys blasting in my headphones.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Will Anderson on March 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Great post about the pros/cons of treadmill running. I’ve never liked it because I get some serious vertigo after hopping off as well as the other reasons you mentioned.


  2. Comprehensive points on differences between treadmill and track. Running on treadmill could be backup plan for outsider runner while it is not proper to run outside.


  3. I really like this post because I’ve recently experienced the pros and cons you mentioned. In the winter time, I get in the habit of regularly running on a treadmill. Since it’s warming up now, I went for my first outdoor run the other week and felt like I hadn’t run in five months…literally. Like you said, treadmill belts have a lot of momentum, which causes you to pick up your feet. While it’s still great aerobic exercise, I’ve found that running outdoors is more beneficial in almost every way.


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