Ask the Personal Trainer: Walking Outdoors vs. Treadmill

Is one form of walking really more difficult than the other?
TrainerAsk Personal Trainer
Q: Why is walking outside more difficult than on a treadmill?

A: Treadmill walking is a controlled situation. Your exact speed and percent incline are known and remain constant until you change them. The belt surface on which you're walking is even and does not vary. The composition of the belt and the material on which it rotates afford a softer landing than concrete. Handrails assist with balance and stabilization, but holding on reduces the energy expended. All of these factors make treadmill walking seemingly easier than walking outdoors. Some claim, though, that the treadmill is more difficult because it doesn't let you "cheat." In other words, you must keep up the constant speed or slide off the back!

Outdoor walking, on the other hand, varies with each step. For example, tougher terrain or and increase in grade can slow you down a bit. Environmental stressors such as heat, cold, and wind can improve or compromise your performance depending on conditions. Concrete or asphalt might be rough on your joints. Without handrails, your muscles must compensate by working harder to balance and stabilize your body. This provides a better training effect, which is important for balance development and maintenance, particularly in older adults. With all this, it's no wonder some people perceive outdoor walking to be more difficult.

No matter which you prefer, the most important thing is finding the one you like and sticking to it!

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