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Winter running: the pros and cons of the treadmill

Runners have a strong opinion about the treadmill. Most are either devotees or strongly opposed. Here are the pros and cons to hopping on the conveyor belt

If you’re a runner and living in Canada, you’ve experienced cold-weather running. When the snow and ice sets in, some runners suit up in special gear and head outside, and other runners opt to sweat it out on the treadmill. Runners have strong feelings about their winter coping plan. 


RELATED: The 7 emotional stages of winter running

A 2015 study out of the University of Wisconsin examined eight healthy Division III runners to see if treadmill running affected the body differently than trail running. The study measured athletes’ heartrates (HR) and rates of perceived exertion (RPE) after a one-mile run on a trail, and a one-mile run on a treadmill. There was ample recovery time between these efforts. 

The study found that while there were slight differences in heart rate and perceived exertion, the difference was not large enough to affect most runners’ training. All but one of the subjects had slightly lower heart rates on the treadmill when compared to the trail, and there was no notable difference in perceived rate of exertion. With this research in mind, runners can rest assured that their treadmill run isn’t hindering their training. 

Treadmill Running Pros

The weather is always good

It’s not great weather, it’s not terrible weather, it’s passable weather. When you’re running indoors, it’s usually a little warm, but at least you can guarantee that there won’t be rain, sleet or snow. 

You know exactly what pace you’re running at 

There’s no GPS syncing or guessing at how far you’ve gone. When you’re running on a conveyor belt, you know exactly how far you’ve traveled. 


There’s a very small risk of a slip and fall

While treadmill accidents can happen (see video), they’re usually pretty avoidable. On a treadmill, you don’t have to worry about icy conditions or difficult surfaces. 

A better treadmill

Treadmill Running Cons 

You likely have to stare at a wall

Treadmill running is notoriously boring. Depending on your treadmill set up, the most scenery you will see during your training is a white wall or other people running, also looking at walls. 

If you don’t own a treadmill, you have to commute to one 

Sadly, running on a treadmill doesn’t mean that you don’t have to go outside. Lots of runners will have to commute to a gym in order to get their workout in, as opposed to just walking out the door. 

Your heart rate will be slightly lower 

Studies like the one above show a slightly lower heart rate in treadmill users when compared to trail runners. Trail running can also recruit slightly different muscles than treadmill running, due to the variability in surfaces.