Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Transitioning from Treadmill to Outdoor Running

With spring on its way and the warmer temps coming (in Utah we are already seeing high 50s some days!) we runners start moving our runs outside more and more. There are so many reasons I love outside running, but every year I'm still quickly reminded how different running outside is from running inside.

When you're running on a treadmill, you don't have to deal with any wind resistance at all. All weather elements are taken out of the equation. You can control the temperature inside with thermostats and fans so you don't have to worry about the weather at all.

Treadmills have a little give every time you land. Not a ton but just enough to notice how hard the pavement is after running on only treadmills for a few months.

You can control your terrane with treadmills. You get to decide when to incline or go flat. There are no cracks in the sidewalk or rocks on the trail so it's pretty smooth sailing.

The treadmill helps you keep your pace. If you set a pace and don't push any buttons you're sure to know that you're going the same pace for a certain distance, even if you start feeling your body get tired. When you're outside you mentally have to prepare yourself for your brain to tell your legs that it's time to slow down and physically fight wanting to slow down. You also have to pay more attention to your body and make sure it doesn't automatically slow down or speed up on its own.

You use different muscles more on the treadmill instead of outside. When you're running on the treadmill you end up using more of your quads more to push off the belt. But when you're running outside you use your hamstrings more to lift your leg at the end of your stride.

So there are more differences than you'd expect at first. And because of those differences transitioning from fully running on the treadmill to running outside can feel different and needs to be done over time.  Which, I'll be the first to admit, I don't usually take enough transition time between winter running (for me, mostly on the treadmill) to spring/summer/fall running outside.  And because I don't usually take much time to ease into the transition, I usually fight a little bit of injury like shin splints for the first few runs.

I thought I'd give you some tips on transitioning so that you can avoid injury and know what to expect.

Start easy. Just like everything else in running, in order to avoid injury, take your time increasing mileage or speed outside.  Even if you can run 10 miles on a treadmill, start lower outside. The pavement and asphalt and ground aren't as cushy as a treadmill that has a little give to it. The grass is pretty soft but that can also work different muscles. So just start easy no matter where you're running outside. 

Check your running shoes. If you've been running in your same shoes for more than 300 miles check them out to see if it's time for new ones. (I wrote all about how to tell if you need new running shoes HERE).

Safety First! When you're indoors, at the gym or at home, it's easy to tune your mind out with music and shows and all that. But when you're running outside you need to make sure you're being alert to what is going on around you. Try running without headphones in. Tell someone where you're planning on going, or take a running buddy, (it's more fun and safer than running alone) know your surroundings. Just be safer all around.

Dress right for the conditions.  Early spring is always tricky. It looks super nice outside but when you actually get out there it's still pretty chilly.  Make sure to check the weather before you head out and dress accordingly.  I like to dress like it's around10 degrees warmer than it is because once you start going you'll warm up a lot more. Here is an idea of how I dress for running depending on the weather.


  1. Great tips. I have been doing all my runs on a treadmill this winter and just started back outside this week. Feels like I'm a beginner again! Annie @

    1. Thats how it is for me every time too. I always get done with my run and think "what happened?!"

  2. These are great tips and very helpful to help understand that treadmill running and outside running aren't really the same, using different muscle groups! It's motivating me to want to start getting out and running/hiking soon!

  3. Great tips! Your article makes me want to get moving and out of my state of hibernation:)