Outdoor Vs. Indoor Running: What Burns More Calories?

We’re always told that running is a good exercise. And, within the realm of running, sportspeople and fitness enthusiasts have their own preferences. Some might like hitting the treadmill, while others might prefer the pavement.

Running comes with benefits such as as better mood, reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and lasting fitness.1 2 But, the choice between running outdoors and indoors raises an important question. Which of the two burns more calories? According to experts, the short answer is outdoor running.3  However, there is more to it than what meets the eye.


How Does Outdoor Running Burn More Calories?

Terrain changes and wind resistance increase calorie-burn with outdoor running.

Studies conducted to determine the differences between the impacts of outdoor v/s indoor running, stress on the fact that the calorie-burn with outdoor running is only 5-7% higher than that of indoor running for the same duration.4 This difference is the result of two factors, namely

  • Uneven terrain: Running outdoors, whether on the pavement, a jogging track or the park, challenges the body in terms of terrain. Bumps, inclines, and turns together help in burning those extra calories.
  • Wind resistance: Outdoor running also means being exposed to natural wind resistance against your body. Higher resistance forces your muscles to work more thereby helping the body burn more calories every hour.

It is also important to remember that when running outdoors, you do not have any help from a machine’s propelling belt. Your internal sense of speed also acts as a factor in altering the number of calories that you burn. Moreover, the natural surroundings leave a positive impact on your overall well being.5

Is Running Outdoors A Better Option?

Outdoor running might cause health disorders.


Although outdoor running may help burn slightly more calories, it comes with its own set of problems. For one, you’d need to depend on favorable weather conditions and time of the day to run. Other drawbacks of outdoor running include

  • Higher risk of injuries: Outdoor running might increase the risk of stress fractures and sprains.6
  • Higher risk of health problems: During winters, inhaling the cold air could lead to several respiratory problems. It might also cause muscle cramping and soreness in the body throughout the day. On the other hand, running outdoors during the hot summer months might make you more prone to dehydration, fatigue, and heat stress.7

These disadvantages in mind, running indoors on a treadmill might be a better option. Additionally, the potential health repercussions of outdoor running far outweigh its small calorie-burn advantage. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t make indoor running challenging.


Get The Most Out Of Indoor Running

Incline running and interval training can increase calorie burn

Indoor running gives you the advantage of making adjustments as per your routine. To add to this, you don’t need to depend on the weather or the time of the day. What’s better? All you need to do is tweak the treadmill settings to burn as many calories as you would while running outdoors. Here’s how you can go about it.

  • Run On An Incline: A study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences states that running on the treadmill with even a 1% incline might help you burn as many calories as you would with outdoor running.8
  • Try high-intensity interval training:  Tabata style high-intensity running increases the number of calories that you burn on the treadmill. This involves sprinting for 20 minutes at a speed that’s more than your comfort level, slowing down for 10 seconds, and repeating the same a few more times. It makes up for the lack of wind resistance during indoor running, helping you get even more from your workout session.9

It’s important to note that your fitness goals should not only depend on calorie counting, but an overall consideration of factors like diet, regularity, and safety of your workouts. A proper warm up before exercise and stretching after cooling down can maximize the effects of your efforts. Considering the comfort of better environmental conditions and reduced risk of injury indoors, the treadmill might be a smarter choice for running.