Updated: September 21, 2017

Q. Is there any difference, fitness-wise, between running on a treadmill and running outdoors?

The answer depends on how fast you're running. For the average person, running 6-9 mph on a health-club-quality treadmill, the difference is slight, perhaps nonexistent. Some studies show no difference at all between treadmill and outdoor running; other research shows outdoor running burns 3-5 percent more calories. "The treadmill belt is doing a little bit of the work by helping pull your feet back underneath your body," says John Porcari, Ph.D., a professor in the department of exercise and sports science at the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse. (A cheap treadmill, with a belt that doesn't move smoothly, won't assist you as much as a high-quality machine, so you'll probably burn the same number of calories as when you run outside.)

When you run on a treadmill, you don't have to overcome wind resistance, so that may also explain the small difference in calorie burn. If you're running faster than about 10 mph -- a very speedy six-minute-mile pace -- outdoor running may burn up to 10 percent more calories than running on a treadmill does because you're working harder against wind resistance.

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Anonymous
August 19, 2018
Are you kidding me? All the variables involved in running and here we are talking about wind resistance? If you want to talk to the “average person” here (who first of all is not going to run at 9mph for any more than about 30 seconds to a minute before totally wearing themselves out), you’d be way better off considering 1. Incline 2. Temperature and 3. Humidity. Average Joe is probably going to run on a treadmill at 0% incline, and unless you live in Kansas or Texas and run on a very small loop that is totally flat that is just not going to happen running outside. You’ll burn way more calories running outside because of this. Average Joe is also probably not going to crank the temperature to 90 on his thermostat or down to 50 before getting going on the treadmill....he’ll probably be trotting along at a cozy 70 degrees the entire time, and may even be running the lap of luxury on one of those treadmills with a fan built in. This will hardly ever be the case while running outside which will once again cause you to burn more calories. And maybe least important but still worth mentioning is humidity....if it’s more humid outside than it is inside which in most places is likely to be the case, your body will not be getting and processing as much oxygen as efficiently as it would while running inside on a treadmill. Once again, you’ll be working harder and burning more calories while running outside because of this. This consideration of the processing of oxygen is also true of altitude, but we can probably safely assume that you’ll be running at a similar altitude outside in your neighborhood as you will at your gym down the street, wherever you’re located. Wind resistance, please....get up to a turbo charged 15-20 miles an hour and then maybe we can talk about that