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Is Running on A Treadmill Pointless?

Are you looking to get in shape? Running is a great way to get in shape, and it can be done indoors or outdoors. If you’re training for a race or need to stay consistent with your workouts, the treadmill can be a great option. Contrary to what many people think, running on a treadmill isn’t pointless.

While it’s true running on a treadmill is different than running outside, it certainly isn’t a pointless endeavor. Treadmills can be very effective tools that can help most runners reach their goals, but there are certain ways of using them that will help make them more effective, safer, and better mimic running outside.

This article will help answer the question is running on a treadmill pointless as well as talk through some of the similarities and differences between running on a treadmill vs running outside, as well as cover some of the disadvantages of running on a treadmill.

Is Running on A Treadmill Pointless?

is running on a treadmill pointless graphic

No, running on a treadmill is not pointless. It can be a very effective tool to assist in weight loss, increase stamina, or give your body a break from running outside. It can be easier than running outside for several reasons, but that doesn’t make it pointless.

The muscles utilized on a treadmill are slightly different than when running outside. On a treadmill, the belt is moving underneath your feat so there isn’t as much of a need to propel yourself forward. This causes less activation of the hamstring and glute muscles. Additionally, it is completely flat, unless you add an incline, which also causes slightly less activation in the quad muscles.

Harvard Health states:

“While treadmills may seem boring, they can offer a good alternative for exercise, depending on how you use them.”

Dr. Adam Tenforde – department of physical medicine and rehab

There are more effective, and less effective, ways to use a treadmill.

If your goal is to mimic running outside, a good idea is to add a 1%-2% incline on the treadmill to help engage the quad muscles a little better. Running on natural terrain, there are things like hills, valleys, curbs, potholes, and other obstacles that cause the body to have to work the muscles differently. Adding a slight incline on the treadmill can give the body the impression that these things are present and help to keep those muscles engaged.

Can You Get in Shape by Running on A Treadmill?

You can get in shape running on a treadmill. Treadmills burn calories, tax your cardiovascular system, and work your muscles just like any other exercise. As your body adapts, you will gain stamina, lose weight, and get stronger which will increase your overall fitness level.

If you’re relatively new to running on a treadmill, check out our guide on treadmill running speeds for beginners. It has a great chart to map out the speed and other factors that are important when using a treadmill. Since the user sets the speed, it’s critical to get that right. Too fast and you will wear yourself out, but too slow and you won’t get the maximum benefit for your efforts. Finding the sweet spot will help you improve your stamina over the long term.

Using the treadmill correctly, and consistently, will help a person get in shape and lose weight. Even something as simple as walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes per day is enough to burn calories and build muscle. Running will get the job done faster, however, either method is sufficient to reach some moderate health-related goals.

Disadvantages of Running on a Treadmill

There are 3 disadvantages of running on a treadmill as well. Many people perceive running on a treadmill as boring and less effective than running outside. It also does not engage muscles the same as normal running due to the moving belt. Lastly, the noise bothers some runners.

There are a few other disadvantages of running on a treadmill. Many of these only apply if you run on a treadmill a lot, or even exclusively. If using a treadmill is only part of your training program, many of these are not as concerning.

There are a few common issues people face:

  • Unnatural surface
  • No turning
  • Limited space
  • Limited options
  • It can cause minor motion sickness in some people

The Running Surface

When running on a treadmill, you are running on a belt that is moving underneath your feet. This can be perceived as an unnatural surface to run on for some people and lead to a feeling of instability. Additionally, the treadmill generally has some shock absorption properties which don’t mimic the real world.

This can cause a runner to change or modify their gait which, over the long term, may not be favorable. One thing that can play into this is the type of running shoes you are wearing. For the best results, it’s often a good idea to look at some of the top treadmill running shoes because they have a few characteristics that can help: lower cushion, more support, and an overall lower profile shoe.

No Turning

While running outside, you can take different routes which can help break up the monotony of running. When running on a treadmill, however, you are confined to one spot. Without ever turning, you can lose a bit of agility or proprioception that may affect your running elsewhere.

Limited Space

Running on a treadmill can be slightly claustrophobic at first. You are boxed in by the side rails or, at the very least, the inability to move your feet much off of the centerline. On top of that, if you go too fast you run into the apparatus in front and if you run too slow you risk your foot coming off of the back of the belt.

This can create stress and cause runners to think about something besides their breathing and focusing on the run. It can also make it less enjoyable.

Limited Exercise Options

Treadmills are pretty good at one thing, and one thing only. They have a moving belt that just turns and turns. However, there aren’t options to add obstacles or to do anything other than just run straight. Many treadmills allow the use of incline, and the speed can vary, but that’s it.

They are also very heavy and hard to move, so changing the scenery when you are running is quite difficult. This can lead to the boredom point that I made in the first paragraph above – it isn’t the most stimulating opportunity to exercise.

Why Does It Feel Weird to Run on a Treadmill?

Many people get a weird feeling from running on a treadmill. In short, our vestibular system gets out of whack when we are running on a treadmill because it knows we are running but it doesn’t see the world passing by. Similar to sea sickness, or more accurately when you get back on dry land after a boat and feel like you should be moving but you aren’t.

It’s quite interesting, and there are several things you can do to help make it feel less weird if this problem is something that affects you.


Running on a treadmill has some definite advantages. It is a great way to burn calories, lose weight, and improve your endurance. However, there are also some disadvantages that you should be aware of before making it your only form of exercise. It can be boring, make you less agile, and cause you to think about your running more than you might like.

I think we have adequately answered the question is running on a treadmill pointless. It is not. It’s a great tool when understood, both its benefits and limitations and used for what it is. However, if you are planning on training for a race or event, I would recommend adding some outdoor runs to your routine as well.

This will help you better prepare for the real thing and give you a change of scenery. Either way, just getting out and running is a great way to improve your overall health!

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About the author

Jasper loves to write about fitness, running, and anything else that gets him moving outdoors. He's an avid hiker, backpacker, and climber who loves to stay fit so he can make sure he's healthy enough to enjoy his favorite hobbies. He also spends time writing about his true passions in life.