How to Switch from Treadmill to Outdoor Running

Switching the treadmill for the road is a totally liberating experience. It’s like ditching the car for a motorcycle. You’re no longer enclosed, but free. You can feel the wind in your hair, the hubbub of the world around you and all that nature has to offer. No longer predictable, contained and controlled, when you take your run outdoors you’re interacting with the world. It’s a rush, but it’s also soothing to the soul.

Research backs this up. Exercising outdoors has been shown to improve self-esteem, as well as reduce depression, stress and fatigue compared to exercising indoors. But that’s not all. When you run outside, you can run virtually any time and anywhere. Running outdoors is also more natural (psychologically and physically) and, once you have made the transition away from indoor running, far more enjoyable than pounding along on a treadmill and going nowhere fast. Let your running take you places.

From Treadmill to Outdoor Running

So does that mean you should go treadmill cold turkey and dive into running outdoors exclusively? Nope. The mechanics of running indoors is quite different from running outdoors and it’s more strenuous. So it’s worth transitioning gradually from treadmill to outdoor running allowing you to experience all the benefits of running outdoors.

1. Ramp up the Incline

Running outdoors is more challenging than running indoors because the treadmill is completely flat – and straight. Also when you run on the treadmill there’s no wind-resistance. And no, the fan doesn’t count!

Prepare your heart, lungs, muscles and mind for running outdoors by increasing the incline during your treadmill runs to about 1% to mimic running on a flat surface outdoors. Do not hold onto the handrails – you won’t find them outdoors! Also make sure your running form is good generally.

If your outdoor running route has some steep terrain you can prep for that by increasing or decreasing the incline further. Running downhill can be almost as demanding as running uphill. This is because your big thigh muscles (quadriceps), have to work really hard to brake you as you descend. If you are lucky enough to have a treadmill with a decline setting then use it to prepare your muscles for running downhill.

2. Short and steady

When you head outdoors to run start easy to allow your body to adjust to the uneven running surface. Doing too much too soon can leave your muscles and joints sore, and increase your risk of injury. Make sure you finish your first few runs feeling as though you could have gone considerably further and faster and gradually build up your distance and speed. Alternate indoor and outdoor workouts for the first few weeks of your transition so that you break yourself in gently.

3. Increase workout frequency

As you become more accustomed to outdoor running, begin to decrease your treadmill workouts so that you only stay indoors every third or fourth workout. Gradually wean yourself off indoor running over the coming weeks until all your runs are outdoors.

4. Slow down

Take it easy. Don’t expect to run as fast or as far outdoors as you do indoors. Because of factors such as wind resistance, uneven terrain and differences in running mechanics, you’ll find running outdoors more demanding than running indoors. Make sure you allow for this when you are planning your running routes. MapMyRun is an easy way to plan your routes.

5. Choose trails

Roads are unforgiving running surfaces whereas treadmill running decks flex when you run and thus absorb some the impact. The road provides no such cushioning so make sure your running shoes are suited for outdoor running and provide adequate protection from impact. Indoor and outdoor running shoes are constructed quite differently. To start with seek out more forgiving running surfaces such as wooded trails.

6. Plan running routes

When you run on a treadmill, you can stop anytime you like and you’ll be no further away from home than when you started. Running outdoors can take you miles from home which can prove problematic if you get too tired to continue, suffer an injury or need a bathroom break. Plan your first few runs so that they are circular routes so you do not stray too far from home base.

And remember. The treadmill is still your friend. Just because you’ve made the switch to outdoor running doesn’t mean you can’t use the treadmill from time to time. For example, if you are going to do an interval training session, the treadmill provides the means to accurately measure your work and rest periods. Or, if the weather is dangerously bad – e.g. snow, ice and high winds, an indoor workout is a great alternative to not running at all. Sometimes it’s nice to just hop on a treadmill, tune out and run without having to worry about weather, other road users or the conditions underfoot.

Outdoor Running Tips

If you are new to outdoor running, there are several things you should consider before heading out the door for your first run…

Be safe – it’s highly unlikely you will be harassed by a curious dog when running on a treadmill, but dogs and other hazards can cause safety concerns when you run outside. Watch out for dogs, traffic, pedestrians,  and any other potential hazard you might encounter when running outdoors. Also, dress in easily visible clothing to ensure that road traffic can easily see and avoid you.

Carry your kit – running outdoors inevitably means you will have to carry a few things with you such as keys, a cell phone, money or perhaps some form of ID. The last thing you want is a bunch of coins or keys bouncing around in your pockets. So make sure you have the means to carry these and other items comfortably and securely; a waist bag or small back pack is ideal.

Remember the weather – when you head out for a run in the great outdoors, you are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Some of your runs may take place in blistering heat while other runs may involve running through a deluge of rain. Make sure your running clothing matches the weather conditions so you are comfortable and safe come rain or shine.

Running is an awesome form of exercise. But many runners do most – if not all – of their running indoors on treadmills. While treadmill running a great form of exercise, running outdoors is a more natural activity and boasts a variety of extra health benefits. Running on a treadmill is convenient but for maximum enjoyment and the best results head for the great outdoors!

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