Balance your indoor and outdoor runs

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In order to be the most efficient in their sport, runners of every level are capitalizing on all available environments, indoors and out. “The biggest thing I see happening in the performance running world, among people who take running seriously, is that they're getting interested in treadmill interval training,” says David Siik, Los Angeles-based creator of Equinox’s Precision Running program. “This wasn’t the popular idea a few years ago.” 

The treadmill offers a low-impact surface and high-performance tools that are useful to runners. “It has the unique ability to make tenths of a mile-per-hour pace changes as well as half-degree incline changes, providing some of the most exact and observable data possible,” says Siik. “That type of precision allows for an unrivaled level of customization, goal planning, and progress observation.”

But balancing indoor runs with outdoor ones is the key to performance. “Importantly, outdoor running offers the conditioning element of terrain, challenging your body to turn, side step a rock, or jump a curb,” says Siik. “Also, running outdoors is great for the mind, offering a stimulation of environment that helps keep your running a little less predictable and more interesting.”

Runners who race distances of 10K and up, keep at least 60 percent of your runs outdoors and 40 percent indoors; if you’re running mostly for health with the occasional 5K, flip that proportion to 40 percent outdoors, 60 percent indoors, suggests Siik. (At a bare minimum, get one outdoor run for every five tread runs.) “Because 10K and higher-distance races require a heavier mileage-based training, a 60/40 balance will not drastically affect your overall mileage,” says Siik. “While 5Ks tend to a bit more zippy, you can still maintain the appropriate mileage base for that race with a heavier treadmill schedule.”

In the video above, Julie Granger, a New York City-based group fitness instructor at Equinox, demonstrates how runners can get the most out of their runs, depending on where they take place. Below, Siik and other running experts break it all down.


Look up. “Outdoors, you naturally look out about 20 feet in front of you to observe upcoming terrain,” says Siik. Do the same on a treadmill—try to look out over the top of the tread (not at the monitor). “Looking down too low on a tread can strain your neck and put you in a more compromised position.”

Stand back. To open up your optimal stride, move back about one foot from the screen. “If you are smashed right up against the monitor, it will affect your arm drive and even your stride, leading to an un-natural running form,” says Siik.

Do intervals. Tempo runs and speedwork can be more effective on the treadmill, notes Angela Moore, lab manager for the Precision Running studio at Equinox Chestnut Hill in Boston. “It’s easy to get in the habit of just running the same speed when you’re outside,” she says. Plus, today’s treadmills are much more performance-driven, notes Siik. “You are able to plan, track, and focus on metrics like never before. This can be very motivating as well as help you stick to a plan.” For example, audio coaching on a tread is extremely different than outdoor running, says Siik. Precisely changing the variables on the tread is something that would be very difficult for a runner to manage outdoors. It’s the difference between your coach on a track asking you to “pick up your pace a little” and a coach by your treadmill asking you to “add 0.3 mph to your pace”. 

Finish with hamstring work. Due to the mechanical element of a moving ground, running on a treadmill requires slightly less hamstring activation, says Siik. “It isn’t enough to create weak hamstrings but it is a difference.” Tack on a few minutes of hamstring-strengthening exercises, like single-leg deadlifts, after your tread run to ward off potential imbalances.


Protect yourself from the elements. “Running on a tread gives you a break from sun and wind damage to your skin, as well as from heavy pollution in urban areas,” says Siik. When running outside, always wear a broad-spectrum SPF and, when possible, seek areas away from major sources of pollution (think highways or factories).

Prep for lateral movement. On a treadmill, you don’t turn or have to step around or over terrain; the outdoors introduce movement in other planes of motion. Add some lateral band walks to your warm-up routine to get your glutes firing (adding stability to the hips) and work your abductors and adductors which control limb strength.  

Go long—or sprint. To beat boredom and replicate real-life race conditions, take long runs to the streets. “The treadmill is better designed for interval training, not 10-mile runs,” says Siik. Also, any all-out efforts shorter than 30 seconds are best done on an actual track, notes Siik. “The treadmill takes a long time to speed up and slow down and you are at the mercy of the machine’s rate of acceleration and deceleration. The track is a perfect place to have a great sprint workout.”

Switch up your terrain. You can’t change the texture or terrain of a treadmill belt, but you can take your run to the trails, beach, areas with altitude, and even grass. And whether it’s strength training, running, or some other fitness pursuit, variety is one of the keys to avoiding plateaus—and continuing to improve.