Why Do I Run Slower on A Treadmill? Why is it Harder?

Running is a popular and effective form of exercise that promotes cardiovascular health, endurance, and overall well-being.


Many fitness enthusiasts choose to run outdoors, enjoying the fresh air and changing scenery. However, for various reasons, some individuals opt for treadmill running, which simulates the experience of running outdoors but occurs on a stationary platform. Yet, many people notice that they run slower on a treadmill compared to running outside.


In this article, we will delve into the reasons behind this phenomenon and explore why treadmill running can feel harder than running outdoors.


Understanding the Treadmill Mechanics


Treadmills offer several advantages, such as adjustable speed, incline options, and the ability to monitor your performance. Yet, the mechanics of running on a treadmill differ from running outdoors.


On a treadmill, the belt moves beneath your feet, propelling you forward. This conveyor belt motion means that your muscles do not need to exert as much force to propel yourself forward compared to running on a stationary surface outside.


Lack of Wind Resistance


When running outdoors, you encounter natural elements like wind resistance. This force pushes back against your body as you move forward, creating an additional challenge for your muscles.


On a treadmill, there is no wind resistance, leading to a more controlled and easier experience. Without wind resistance, your body doesn't have to work as hard to maintain the same pace, resulting in a perceived decrease in effort.


Psychological Factors


The environment in which you run can have a significant impact on your performance. Many people find outdoor running more enjoyable and mentally stimulating due to changing scenery, fresh air, and a sense of freedom.


On a treadmill, the monotonous and static surroundings might lead to a lack of motivation and decreased focus, causing you to feel like you are running slower.


Stride and Gait Alterations


Treadmill running can subtly alter your stride and gait mechanics compared to running outdoors.


When running on a treadmill, the ground moves beneath you, and some runners may unconsciously adapt their stride to match the treadmill's pace. This adaptation can result in a shorter stride and less engagement of certain muscles, leading to a slower pace and potentially higher energy expenditure.


Temperature and Ventilation


Outdoor running exposes you to various temperatures and weather conditions, which can affect your performance.


On a treadmill, the environment is controlled, and the lack of natural ventilation may lead to increased body heat, making it harder to maintain your pace comfortably. Proper air circulation is crucial for optimal performance, and treadmill runners may face challenges in this aspect.


Lack of Downhill Terrain


In outdoor running, you encounter various terrains, including downhill sections that allow for a momentary break and muscle recovery. However, treadmills generally lack downhill terrain, providing a constant flat surface.


Without the benefit of downhill sections, treadmill runners may experience increased fatigue, making it harder to maintain their usual pace.


Mental Awareness and Distractions


Running outdoors often requires a heightened awareness of your surroundings, potential obstacles, and changes in terrain. This mental engagement can divert your focus away from any perceived fatigue.


In contrast, treadmill running may allow your mind to wander due to the controlled environment, leading to a greater awareness of physical exertion and potentially slowing down your pace.


Lack of Natural Momentum


When running outdoors, your body generates natural momentum with each stride, aiding in propulsion and maintaining a consistent pace.


On a treadmill, the belt's motion provides this momentum, which might lead some runners to rely more on the belt's assistance, resulting in a slower pace when transitioning back to outdoor running.


Muscular Imbalances


Treadmill running, with its consistent flat surface and repetitive motion, may contribute to muscular imbalances over time. Certain muscles may be underutilized or overused, affecting your overall performance.


Addressing these imbalances through cross-training and strength exercises can improve your running performance both on the treadmill and outdoors.




Can running on a treadmill improve my outdoor running performance?


Yes, running on a treadmill can be beneficial for improving your outdoor running performance.


Treadmills allow you to control variables like incline and speed, helping you to focus on specific aspects of your training. Additionally, treadmill running can help build cardiovascular endurance and strengthen leg muscles, both of which contribute to enhanced outdoor running capabilities.


Are there any techniques to make treadmill running feel more enjoyable?


Absolutely! Here are a few techniques to make your treadmill running more enjoyable:


  • Incorporate interval training: Alternate between periods of high intensity and recovery to keep your workout engaging and challenging.
  • Use visual aids: Set up a TV or tablet in front of the treadmill and watch your favorite shows or movies to distract yourself from the effort.
  • Listen to music or podcasts: Create a playlist or listen to engaging podcasts to keep yourself motivated and entertained during your run.
  • Try virtual running apps: Explore virtual running apps that simulate outdoor routes and provide visual scenery to make your treadmill running experience more immersive.
  • Set goals and rewards: Establish realistic goals for your treadmill workouts and reward yourself when you achieve them. This can provide a sense of accomplishment and make the experience more enjoyable.


How can I overcome the mental boredom of treadmill running?


Overcoming mental boredom during treadmill running can be challenging, but here are some tips to help:


  • Change up your workout routine: Vary your speed, incline, and workout duration to keep things interesting and prevent monotony.
  • Use interval training: Integrate intervals of higher intensity or incline into your workout to add excitement and challenge.
  • Engage your mind: Listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or educational lectures while running to stimulate your mind and distract from the monotony.
  • Visualize outdoor running: Imagine yourself running in a beautiful outdoor setting or mentally visualize a race or running goal to transport your mind and make the experience more engaging.
  • Join a virtual running community: Participate in online running communities or social media groups where you can share your progress, experiences, and interact with fellow runners.


How can I improve my running form on a treadmill?


Maintaining proper running form is essential on a treadmill. Here are some tips to help improve your form:


  • Focus on posture: Keep your head up, shoulders relaxed, and maintain a tall and upright posture throughout your run.
  • Land midfoot: Aim to land on the middle of your foot with each step rather than striking with your heel or forefoot.
  • Avoid overstriding: Take shorter strides and ensure your feet are landing beneath your body rather than reaching too far forward, which can put unnecessary stress on your joints.
  • Swing your arms: Allow your arms to swing naturally and actively engage them to help maintain balance and momentum.
  • Maintain a consistent stride rate: Aim for a stride rate of around 180 steps per minute, which can help optimize your running form and reduce the risk of injury.


Does incline training on a treadmill have any benefits?


Yes, incline training on a treadmill offers several benefits:


  1. Increased cardiovascular challenge: Running on an incline simulates hill running, which requires more effort from your heart and lungs, leading to improved cardiovascular fitness.
  2. Strengthening of leg muscles: Incline training engages your calf muscles, quadriceps, and glutes more intensely, helping to build strength and endurance in these muscle groups.
  3. Calorie burn: Running on an incline increases the intensity of your workout, resulting in a higher calorie burn compared to running on a flat surface.
  4. Outdoor preparation: Incline training on a treadmill can prepare you for outdoor running on hilly terrains by building strength and stamina.
  5. Variation in training: Incorporating incline training adds variety to your workouts, preventing plateaus and keeping your fitness routine engaging.


Is it necessary to warm up before running on a treadmill?


Yes, warming up before running on a treadmill is essential to prepare your muscles and prevent injury. A warm-up should include dynamic stretches and light aerobic exercises to increase blood flow, loosen up your joints, and gradually raise your heart rate. Spend 5-10 minutes performing exercises such as jogging in place, leg swings, high knees, and arm circles. Warming up helps prepare your body for the workout ahead and allows for better performance during your treadmill run.


Can running on a treadmill help with weight loss?


Yes, running on a treadmill can be an effective tool for weight loss. Running is a high-intensity cardiovascular exercise that burns a significant number of calories. By maintaining a calorie deficit through a combination of a healthy diet and regular treadmill running, you can create an environment conducive to weight loss. The intensity and duration of your treadmill workouts, combined with a well-balanced diet, will play a key role in achieving your weight loss goals.




In conclusion, running slower on a treadmill and finding it harder than outdoor running can be attributed to various factors. The mechanics of treadmill running, the lack of wind resistance, psychological aspects, stride alterations, and environmental factors all play a role in this phenomenon. While treadmill running offers many benefits, it's essential to acknowledge the differences between treadmill and outdoor running to optimize your training and performance.


To become a more efficient treadmill runner and overcome the challenges, consider incorporating outdoor runs into your routine. Additionally, focus on cross-training exercises that target muscle imbalances and improve overall strength. By understanding these factors and implementing appropriate strategies, you can enhance your treadmill running experience and reach your fitness goals.


Remember, whether you prefer outdoor or treadmill running, the most crucial aspect is to stay consistent and enjoy the process of becoming a better, healthier, and stronger runner.