If you compare the treadmill to track running or walking at the same speeds, then yes, there is some compromise.
In other words, 7 mph on a treadmill is a bit easier than 7 mph on an outdoor track.
So even though a duplicate speed comparision might make the treadmill seem easier than a track, the real issue is whether or not you can get a treadmill to bring you to pure cardio exhaustion. The answer to that is YES.
Though the tread moves beneath your feet, your feet must keep up with it, and this requires plenty of work at fast enough speeds or with a high enough incline.
How long can you walk on the machine at 4 mph at 15 percent incline? Try it. And do not hold on, either!
How long can you run on the machine at 8 mph at 15 percent incline? Try it, and keep your hands off the equipment!
Running outdoors or on a track, of course, will better prepare you for actually having to run somewhere from point A to point B, than will the best treadmill workout, because no matter how rigorous you make a treadmill session, you can also make a track session very strenuous as well.
The closer the training session mode is to what you want to train for, the more effective that mode is.
So if you want to become more efficient on a basketball court, or at sprinting across a parking lot in the rain, then track running will increase your efficacy more than treadmill running will, especially since on a track, you can change direction.
A treadmill provides a linear workout, and this is one of its limitations. Another limitation of the machine is that the surface is smooth and not variable.
A track may also be smooth and nonvariable, but then again, there are gravel tracks, and outdoor running/walking can also include grassy and rocky surfaces.
An advantage to a treadmill is that you can monitor your speed. Working out on a track or outdoors means you may begin slowing down and not realize it.
A machine also provides a fixed program of speeds and inclines, that force you to adjust your effort level; it’s easier to become lax while running on some lazy country road.
Something to consider: If you’re outside walking or running and you feel like quitting, you can’t just quit; you have to complete the workout by returning to your car or house, even though if you’re at the local school track, your car may be only 100 yards away.
But indoors on a machine makes it easier to quit your routine prematurely.
Strenuous treadmill workouts will definitely carry over to outdoor running as well as the running required for athletic activities, especially if the treadmill sessions include high intensity interval training – but again, literally running from point A to point B is the preferred training regimen.
The point is: Don’t underestimate what a machine can do for you, but at the same time, it’s always wise to include track or outdoor cardio sessions in your exercise program.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.