Why do I run slower on a treadmill?

why do I run slower on a treadmill

Running on a treadmill is a great way to boost your cardiovascular health while also getting into shape - but you might be wondering: “why do I run slower on a treadmill?” The truth is, running on a treadmill isn’t quite like running outside, and in some cases can feel more physically challenging.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the differences between running outdoors and running on a treadmill, and explain why you might feel as if your performance and speed improves when on an outdoors run. Let’s take a look!

Don’t forget to speak with a medical professional before beginning any new workout programme, especially if you have underlying health issues. 

Why do I run slower on a treadmill?

No, you’re not imagining things - some people really do run slower on a treadmill! While there is no precise reason to explain why, here are some explanations that could apply to you:

Lack of uneven terrain

One reason that could explain why you’re running slower on a treadmill is that you’re running on flat, even terrain. When you’re running outdoors, you’re going to be engaging lots of different muscles while running on lots of different terrains, each of them with their own varying difficulties. On a treadmill, you’re being propelled forwards by the machine itself, meaning that you’re engaging your quad muscles more than your hamstrings. In short, this can make your workout seem harder, and your pace slower.

If you want to add a real challenge to a treadmill workout, it’s a good idea to use an incline feature intermittently for more of a challenge. You can also increase the speed, but make sure to only increase the intensity of your workout according to your own physical capacities.

Less visual stimulation

It’s no secret that running on a treadmill can be slightly mundane. If you’ve only got the wall in front of you to motivate you to work harder, it can be easier to hit a physical plateau and start counting down the minutes left on the clock. Lacking motivation during a treadmill workout is perhaps the easiest way to end up with a much slower pace than before.

To combat this, it’s a good idea to diversify your workouts where possible. If you want to keep using your treadmill for the majority of your exercise, all you need to do is introduce some interval training or HIIT training to your routine.

Not only does this add some variety to your workout, but HIIT training and interval training can help spike your calorie burn, boost your resting metabolism, and increase your athletic performance. Another plus is that you can work out for a shorter time, without compromising on your calorie burn: the classic adage of “work smarter, not harder” applies here.

Outdated machinery

If you’re putting in the hard work and still not running at your natural pace, it might be less of a ‘you’ problem and an actual malfunction within the machinery itself. While the machine might tell you that it’s running at a certain speed or incline, it may be old, outdated, or simply overused. To test your machine’s calibre, it can be a good idea to test a machine at another gym on the same settings, and see if you notice a difference.

Lack of pace change

When you’re running outdoors, you’re obliged to make constant stops and starts; from waiting to cross the road to swerving pedestrians, it’s almost impossible to keep a regular pace when you’re running outdoors. On the treadmill, the opposite is true. As you’re working in a safe, uninterrupted environment, there’s no need to stop and start all the time, and this means you end up running at a monotonous pace.

Not only can this make you feel as if you’re running slower than usual, but it can also impact your motivation, as previously mentioned above. When you’re running on a treadmill, your workout is going to feel much more dynamic and challenging if you use the incline feature, or perform interval training. You’ll also feel more energised, as you’ll be engaging your brain as you go through your planned intervals.

Is running on a treadmill better than running outdoors?

There’s no ‘right answer’ to this question, as everything depends on your own personal preferences, as well as your physical capabilities. As explained above, running on a treadmill can certainly feel more physically challenging, as you’re running at a monotonous pace and your motivation can quickly dwindle.

When you’re running outdoors, you’re faced with varying terrains and lots of visual stimulation - and don’t forget that running outdoors obliges you to change your pace frequently.

When it comes to determining which is better for your needs, there are a couple of things to take into consideration. Perhaps the biggest and most influential factor when it comes to deciding on a treadmill vs. an outdoor run is where you live. If you live in a bustling city, an outdoor run isn’t exactly practical; unless you’re able to run early in the morning, you might find yourself stopping and starting more than actually running.

Similarly, if you’re unable to run in the morning and live in a remote area, you might not feel safe running alone at night, especially if you’re a woman. You also need to take into consideration weather concerns: if you live in a cold climate with frequent rain, snow, or ice, running outdoors poses an injury risk.

Overall, there’s no ‘better’ option between the two - some runners prefer to use a treadmill during the colder months, and take their run outdoors when the weather permits it. Others prefer to work out in the safety of their own home, and also enjoy the ability to track their performance on their machine (without having to invest in an expensive fitness watch). The bottom line is simple: you should simply do what works best for you.

Key takeaways

If you’re struggling to build a challenging pace on your treadmill, try diversifying your workouts and incorporating some interval training into your routine. Not only will you enhance your performance, but you’ll be able to work for a shorter period of time, with maximised results.


I'm Michael Jones and I support this blog with a group of authors consisting of Personal Trainers, Physiotherapist and sellers of fitness equipment!

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