Spring is here—and marathon season officially begins with Monday’s run of the 127th run of the Boston Marathon—which means now is the perfect time to shake things up in your running routine, especially if you’ve been training on the same running surfaces throughout the cold months.
If you’ve used the treadmill all winter long, take your workouts outside. Sick of running the same roads in your neighborhood? Jump on a trail. A change of scenery does wonders for those looking to keep the pace of motivation.
However, if you’ve never stepped foot on a dirt trail, jogged on a treadmill, or hit the pavement, according to, Keith Stern, director of product for Reebok, there are some things to learn about these different surfaces before you lace up your shoes.
Stern breaks down different running surfaces so you pinpoint which path works best for you.
The Difference Between Various Running Surfaces
It’s obvious that running on a treadmill is vastly different than exercising outside, however, Stern explains the main physical difference with various surfaces is stability. “Unpredictability of your running surface requires balance, proprioception, and speed or direction changes with increasing requirements moving from the treadmill to the road to the trail,” he says, and warns there is often a mental component as well.
“For many people, treadmill running can be a mental challenge,” Stern adds. Not shocking, as the monotony can build quickly and it’s very easy to press that stop button early. “The road and trails often provide enough healthy distractions and mental stimulation to make the miles go by a bit easier.” So if you get bored easily with running in the same place, looking at the same things, it may be time to hit the road.
Pros and Cons of Indoor and Outdoor Running
Not everyone is a treadmill fan. And, for a lot of people, “the treadmill is a necessary evil if your climate doesn’t allow for outdoor running year-round,” Stern adds. On the flip side, Stern explains that the convenience of a treadmill helps keep us consistent when the weather would otherwise be an easy excuse for an extra rest day.
“The downside of treadmill running is that the repetitive motion can sometimes lead to overuse injuries more quickly than road or trail running,” he adds. Yes, this is an excuse to step off the treadmill and switch things up.
Although trail running is great for building stability, “The same unpredictable surfaces that train our stabilizer muscles can also pose the risk of mechanical injuries,” Stern says.
Case in point, there are pros and cons of all surfaces; the best thing you can do to maximize your running routine is to switch it up which allows you to stay consistent and beat the boredom.
Can You Build Muscle with Running?
The short answer is yes. Stern explains with the right training program you can build muscle strength effectively through road, trail, or treadmill running. “Trail running has the added benefit of working the smaller stabilizer muscles in your feet and ankles,” Stern says. However, for any of the three training surfaces, hill work can be very effective. “You can search Strava for local hill sections on roads and trails or you can also crank your treadmill incline up to 12.” Recommends Stern. “There’s a reason why you see so many people jumping on treadmills for a 12-3-30 workout (12 percent incline and 3 mph pace for 30 minutes; it works!” he adds. This may help boost winter workouts when you simply can’t get outside.