How to Simulate Running Outside on a Treadmill

It's winter and your running route is covered with ice. Or it's not winter yet but the weather conditions aren't favorable for an evening run. Or perhaps, you're just bored of the monotonous running on a treadmill and you'd like a change in pace, but without the hassle of running against jam-packed traffic.

Well, you can actually simulate running outside on a treadmill and enjoy the benefits like stronger bones, improved calves, etc.

Even though you can't 100% simulate running outside on a treadmill, with a few tips, you can come close. For example, you only need to set your treadmill to a slight incline of 1%, change speed, and adjust your intervals for different treadmill paces.

But let's first understand the differences between treadmills and running outside.

How Is Running Outside Different?

is there any difference between running on a treadmill and running outside

First, the treadmill momentum is very different from making a morning or evening run round the block.

With a treadmill, it all depends on you’ve set the machine. It’s constant and steady and you don’t experience any distractions whatsoever.

On the other hand, running outside gives you intermittent momentum. Your pace changes with every step you make, and the traffic or changing terrain (uphill and downhill) provide inconsistent momentum.

Secondly, there’s the aspect of wind resistance. When running outside, you’re going against the wind, which slows down your pace. This means running on a treadmill is a little bit faster than a morning run.

Thirdly, the treadmill makes you run faster because the belt pushes you forward. Which can be disadvantageous if you’re training for a marathon or something like that.

Your muscles also develop slower compared to running outside.

However, you can simulate the treadmill to let you have an outdoorsy experience. It helps improve your health, burns just as many calories, and builds stronger legs. 

Benefits of Running Outside

what is better for you running outside or on a treadmill

Depending on what your intentions of working out, running outside and running on a treadmill come with respective benefits. For instance, outdoor runners build better muscles and stronger bones than treadmill runners.

At the same time, treadmills are advantageous because of the consistency, especially if you have target calories you need to lose before a specific time.

When running outside, you’re not only burning calories, but you’re also activating more muscles. Due to daily treadmill sessions, some of your muscles become deactivated and thus become weaker. This sets up your muscles for possible injury when you decide to run outside.

Because of this, it’s best to do whatever you can to simulate outdoor running into your treadmill. And the best way to do so is by taking advantage of the speed controls.

Tweak the speeds into different intervals so it feels like you’re running outdoors. This helps pump up your heart rate.

Still, running outdoors gives you a natural gait cycle. That’s because, unlike a treadmill, you’re doing more work yourself. You’re also not limited or encumbered by the treadmill’s small size, which forces you to shorten your strides.

It’s also worth noting that outdoor running is good for your bones. Stepping on stones, concrete or asphalt while running outside tends to reinforce your bones much better than a treadmill can ever achieve.

But despite its downsides, running on a treadmill is inevitable because of bad weather or congested traffic. That’s why it’s better to simulate the outdoor running to indoors treadmill workout.

The Tips

With 4 simple tips, you can achieve the benefits of running outside on a treadmill. 

Tip 1: Set the treadmill incline to 1%

how to make running on treadmill like running outside

Studies on sports med have shown that setting your treadmill by 1% inclination, you get to simulate running outside. This setting best works with an increased speed to help offset the extra energy.

In terms of speed, it’s recommended to set the treadmill to a pace of 7:09 or faster. This tip is scientifically backed because the researchers measured the energy cost by taking into account oxygen uptake during the experimental workouts.

What about your VO2 max? That’s the oxygen your body needs during the workout.

Well, you don’t have to worry about that because studies show that the VO2 max is the same when you run on a treadmill or outside. That is, even though it may feel like you’re using more oxygen during outdoor running, it’s actually the same.

Tip 2: Use preset workouts

To have a feel of natural outdoorsy running on a treadmill, it’s best to use some of the preset built-in workouts.

The preset workouts usually come with automatic settings that simulate uphill and downhill terrains. Note that some treadmills don’t have these automatic settings, but you can always manually change the settings in intervals.

With different terrain courses, you develop your muscles which results in better overall health. And don’t be afraid to change the settings to higher inclinations of 2, 3 or even 4 percent. These best work when you’re simulating higher winds. 

Tip 3: Get a treadmill with google map capability

 NordicTrack Treadmill Google Maps Street View

Some treadmills come with advanced features where you can connect to Google maps and then choose a specific terrain. The Google map technology automatically adjusts the slant based on real life routes. Examples of treadmills with such capability include:

  • LifeSpan TR2000
  • Nordic Tracks Trainers

Some of the treadmills even come installed with full-color screens for visuals simulating the place you’re running.

Tip 4: Watch your form

Study your body and know what works best for your calves or other muscles. Once you’ve fully understood your body, the next thing is to use a workout form that’s best suited for the muscles you’re targeting.

For example, keep your knees bent whenever you’re using the treadmill to maximize muscle building on your calves. You can also keep your chin and chest lifted high, which minimizes slouching.

And forget to do quicker strides and increase in speed. Because it helps cater to the lack of wind resistance due to indoors exercising. 


Let’s look at some of the commonly asked questions about treadmills and outdoor running.

a) Is Running on a Treadmill Good?

Yes. There’s no evidence claiming otherwise. Working out on a treadmill is obviously good for you, especially if the alternative is being a couch potato.

Although we tend to favor outdoor training, the treadmill has its advantages. For starters, it’s a great way to burn calories without the hassle of bad weather. Working out on a treadmill is great because it offers you such a complete, highly controlled environment. You get to accurately control your race pace, intervals, incline, and recovery.

It’s actually easier to get used to a certain speed because the treadmill belt pushes you. And it’s easily accessible. You simply hop onto the treadmill and start your workout. No more procrastinating.

b) When should I use the treadmill instead of running outside?

Even for professional runners, they still need a few workouts on a treadmill. There are situations where you need a treadmill instead of taking a morning run outside.

The obvious reason is the weather. The last thing you want is to run on an icy road, or going for a run on a very sunny day. It’s also practical to use the treadmill if it’s nighttime and you don’t want to be mugged.

You’ll also jump onto a treadmill if you’re looking to improve on your cardio as an overall fitness routine. Running on a treadmill is also perfect for runners trying to recover from an injury. It prepares you for outdoor running. 

c) Can a treadmill really simulate running outside?

Of course, yes. All you need to do is set your treadmill to a 1% inclination. Then increase your speed as you keep your knees bent to develop your calves’ muscles.

You can also buy a treadmill that comes installed with Google map capability, which lets you pick a specific route in real time. The treadmill automatically adjusts as per the terrain of the route you’ve picked.

One thing though… you’ll have to go through some treadmill training to better understand how it operates.

d) Do you burn the same calories working on a treadmill as running outside?

Yes. But you need to adjust your treadmill’s settings such that you get to burn the same calories as running outside. The settings are the speed increase and the inclination.

The best way to know if you’ve burned the same calories is to get Fitbit Sense, a wearable gadget that calculates your calories.

Personally, I weigh about 170 lbs and lose on average 448 calories after a 30-minute run at 7mph. So I try losing the same calories when running indoors. 

e) I am tempted to increase my treadmill’s incline to 3%. Is this safe?

Yes. It’s okay to increase the slope of your treadmill to more than the recommended 1% as a way of mimicking outdoors running. It’s actually a great way to improve on your calf muscles.

Even though it won’t be as effective as running outside, it’s worth giving it a go. It’s better than not trying.


If you’re wondering how to simulate running outside on a treadmill then I hope the 4 simple tips are effective. The most obvious tip is increasing your treadmill gradient by 1%, which is scientifically proven to simulate outdoors running.

It’s actually backed by several published studies on Journal of Sports sciences whereby the lack of air resistance on treadmills is remedied by the 1% incline. Which brings the treadmill’s energetic cost closer to outdoor running.

As we’ve already mentioned, you can also use preset workouts that automatically adjust based on real-time Google maps. Note that you don’t have to worry about calories burned.

Even though it’s commonly believed that outdoor running burns more calories, indoors running on a treadmill can also burn the same calories. You just need to set your treadmill to mimic outdoor running.

The only difference is that an outdoor workout is better at developing muscle memory. Still, if you keep your knees bent when running on a treadmill, you improve your calf muscles.

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