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Pace on treadmill vs. outside: Which is better?

Achieving and maintaining the right pace is critical when it comes to accomplishing your running goals.
Achieving and maintaining the right pace is critical when it comes to accomplishing your running goals.

Is running on a treadmill or outside better for pacing?

When it comes to running competitively and running to get in shape, your pace can make the difference between success and failure.

The pace you should sustain differs according to the type of race. You should run the first mile of a 5K 3% faster than your goal 5K pace, but not more than 6% faster. When you're running a marathon, on the other hand, it's best to run the first 3 or 4 miles 3% slower than your goal marathon pace.

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Despite its importance, many runners are uncertain of how to reach the correct pace. It starts with tracking this variable. Ultimately, the difference between keeping pace while running on the treadmill or running outside boils down to how much control you have over environmental factors. One of these two options definitely offers more control than the other.

Pace on the treadmill

A treadmill is extremely convenient for those people who wish to run regardless of the weather. You can position it in front of the TV or purchase a treadmill with a Bluetooth-enabled monitor attached. You can choose a treadmill with bells and whistles or opt for a basic model. Depending on the model, features can include:

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  • Emergency stop function
  • Incline control
  • Workout programs
  • Electronic device holder
  • Water bottle holder
  • Monitor with Bluetooth functionality
  • Speakers

Prices for treadmills start at $400 for basic models. Keep in mind that these models are typically noisy and aren’t the best fit for runners. That said, their small size is very convenient and they’re a good option if your budget is limited.

Mid-range models are priced from $500-$1,000. The motors on these treadmills are quieter than basic models and they usually have the foundational features many runners need. While mid-range treadmills aren’t the caliber of their more expensive counterparts, the quality of most is good.

You can get a high-quality treadmill with all the features you could dream of if you’re able to pay more than $1,000. These treadmills are worthy of a gym. They’re the perfect option for multiple users and heavy training.

There are a few distinct differences between running on a treadmill and running outside. When you're doing the former, you don't have to deal with the wind and other challenging elements. In general, you also have a more forgiving surface for your joints — unless you're comparing the treadmill to running on the beach.

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While these factors are advantages in some ways, it also means you need to account for them if you plan to begin or resume running outside in the future. Additionally, it's important to adjust the incline to ensure you're running at the proper pace on the treadmill. Setting the incline at 1% is a good practice.

Treadmill pros

  • Run anytime, regardless of the weather
  • Monitor your speed and incline without requiring additional tools
  • Simulate race environments with high-end models
  • Easy on your joints
  • Watch TV or experience mixed reality training

Treadmill cons

  • Boredom is an issue for many people
  • Insufficient workout for your glutes and hamstrings
  • No improvement to your balance or coordination

Best treadmills

NordicTrack Commercial X32i: available at NordicTrack The NordicTrack X32i is built to last many years. This gym-quality treadmill is whisper-quiet, and it's easy on your joints thanks to a robust suspension system.

Nautilus T618: available at Amazon The wealth of features on the Nautilus T618 include a clear LCD display, mixed reality training from the RunSocial app and Bluetooth connectivity. The longevity of this treadmill is promising thanks in large part to the thick three-ply running belt.

XTERRA Fitness TR150: available at Amazon If you need to keep the amount of money you spend on a treadmill low, this is a great option. While the price is low, the XTERRA Fitness TR150 is durable, sturdy and performs well. Plus, you can easily tuck it away when it's not in use.

Pace outside

You’re up against the elements when you run outside. Maintaining a faster pace, if that’s your goal, becomes more challenging when you’re running in high wind or humidity. If you live in an area that experiences intense humidity, exerting yourself can feel like trying to breathe with a blanket laying across your face. There’s also the matter of hills. Whether you’re running in a hilly area or just on a steep trail or street, running uphill is difficult.

Wearing the proper running shoes becomes critical if you plan to run outside. Not only can they improve your performance and benefit your pace, but pavement and dirt are hard on your joints. It's a good idea to get your feet and running style evaluated before you go shoe shopping. People generally tend to fall into one of three categories when they run:

  • Normal pronator: the feet execute a normal, healthy motion as they bear weight
  • Overpronator: the feet roll down and inward excessively
  • Underpronator: the heels lean forward, placing more weight on the outside of the feet

Since you don’t have a treadmill to keep track of your outdoor runs, you’ll need a handheld device. Fitness trackers are excellent for monitoring many activity variables. There’s one caveat: you must purchase a fitness tracker that includes GPS; otherwise, the data won’t be accurate.

Pace outside pros

  • More muscle activation
  • Complements your natural gait cycle
  • Improves your agility
  • Strengthens your bones
  • Experience nature while getting a workout

Pace outside cons

  • The natural elements can make it difficult
  • Hard on your joints
  • Lack of control over your environment

Best fitness trackers

Apple Watch Series 6: available at BestBuy This smartwatch is an excellent device for runners because its data is very accurate. It tracks a number of fitness and health variables, including your blood oxygen levels. It's also highly compatible with many apps.

Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2: available at Samsung Built-in pace coaching and advanced sensors make this smartwatch a great option for runners who are focused on their pace. The wide variety of fitness and health data it tracks includes heart rate, sleep and stress levels.

Fitbit Versa 3: available at Amazon This comprehensive fitness tracker is compatible with Alexa. It's lightweight, so it won't weigh you down during your runs. The Versa 3 also charges quickly and has over 6 days of battery life.

Should you track your pace on the treadmill or outside?

While there are many benefits to running outside, achieving and maintaining your desired pace is extremely challenging due to environmental factors. When you run on a treadmill, you have control over your environment. This, in turn, gives you more control over your pace. Additionally, you can focus on achieving and maintaining your goal pace because you don’t have distractions like walkers, dogs, vehicles and fellow runners.

That said, if you run exclusively on a treadmill before a race, you’ll set yourself up for failure. It’s imperative to complete most of your runs outside in the months leading up to the race. This ensures you’re prepared to deal with the elements and any inclines on the route and can adjust your pace accordingly.

The conclusion: Running on the treadmill is ideal if you’re doing it for fitness. However, if you’re going to compete in a race, running outside is superior.

Megan Oster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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