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Should I Run Outside or on a Treadmill?

Brandt R Gibson, DPM
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Podiatrist, Neuropathy Doctor, Father of 11 and Founder of Mountain West Foot & Ankle Institute
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So, you want to get into running, and you want to be able to log the miles in the way that’s least likely to result in injury. What should you choose: the great outdoors or the treadmill? 

So many people will have different opinions on this matter: hard-core gym goers will always claim that the smooth surface of a As it turns out, outdoor running is a bit safer for your body! treadmill will be your best bet when it comes to preventing injuries.

Nature enthusiasts and marathon or triathlon runners are likely to disagree, weighing in on the side of outdoor training.

I’m never one to take sides in a battle for no reason, so I decided to turn to science to help solve this particular battle. Here’s what I found:

The Nature of Running Injuries

In looking for answers, I turned to the works of Dr. Irene Davis, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School who has studied the differences between treadmill and over-ground running. As it turns out, she was asked this very question for an article in Time Magazine. And her answer may surprise you: she told runners that your odds of getting injured are higher when you train on a treadmill than when you run outdoors, for one simple reason.

“Most running injuries are overloading injuries that involve muscle, cartilage, bone or tendons wearing down over time,” she explained, and she believes those kind of injuries are the result of doing the same exact motion thousands and thousands of times.

When you run on a treadmill, your surface conditions, incline and speed stay fairly constant, whereas when you run outdoors, you are more likely to encounter different terrain, inclines and weather conditions which will force you to alter your stride.

Now, this doesn’t mean that all the gym-rats out there need to flee to the great outdoors; what it DOES mean is that, if you are a dedicated treadmill runner, switching up the speeds and incline at which you train may help you prevent overload-type running injuries.

It’s also important for runners to cross train, incorporating other forms of cardiovascular exercise (and weight-bearing exercises) into their training regimens. And never forget those all-important rest days, as a real key in preventing running injuries is giving your bones and muscles time to heal from the toll this sport can take on your body.

Running is an incredible form of exercise, but it also carries a great risk of injury, regardless of where you train. If you want to maximize your running potential while minimizing your odds of getting hurt, schedule an appointment with your Utah running doctor for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized training regimen.

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