Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Running: In the gym or in the park?

By Eimear Kelly, Queen Mary University of London

Runner in Chicago. Photo Credit: Kyle Cassidy CC-BY-SA 3.0

Running and whether it is better to do it indoors or outdoors is an issue frequently debated. Which will give you a better workout? Which is more enjoyable? Which is safer?

A BBC article notes that outdoor running has been seen as the better workout as it requires more energy because of wind resistance. However, a study from the University of Exeter found that indoor runners who set the treadmill to a 1% gradient could match the energy expended by outdoor runners. But outdoor running was found to be more enjoyable and better for your mental health, particularly if through green spaces.

The question of safety has been explored from an injury standpoint. In a Time article, Dr. Irene Davis argues that running on a treadmill or a flat long stretch of road or pathway increases the risk of overuse injury. In comparison, running outdoors on varied surfaces, and having to change speed and stride in response to hills or corners is safer as you won’t overload the same tendon or muscle.

Safety has also been explored through a focus on gender. Runner’s World recently found in a survey of 4,670 runners, that 43 per cent of women at least sometimes experience harassment while running outdoors, in comparison to 4 per cent of men. They found that women were more likely to consider the safety of their running route, whether it was light outside during their run and whether there were other people on their route.

However, a recent article in Transactions exploring how recreational runners come to run either inside on a treadmill or outside on paths, found that runners were usually not considering questions of higher energy expenditure, enjoyment, or safety of the competing environments. The research with a group of indoor runners and a group of outdoor runners found that both groups often initially established their running routines by chance, which then became permanent. The runners became very attached to their routines and environments, and did not like to question or reflect on this too much. They usually did not want to veer from their already established running plan, as this could result in them not continuing with their running habit which they saw as a positive aspect of their lives.

While the ideal run was seen by both groups as being outdoors, both groups felt that the opposing environment would require them to think more when they ran, which would not be relaxing. And while the outdoor runners felt that they had the superior environment, they also had ideas about how their environment could be improved. In comparison, the indoor runners struggled to think of improvements, and were arguably more content. However, over the course of the research, two of the indoor runners tried running outdoors, evidence that talking about the possibilities of running outside encouraged some to try it. The researchers found that how people talked about their running, what they wanted to talk about and what they avoided, which questions made them excited or anxious, provided insight into how habits of running indoors and outdoors were maintained.

60-world2 Hamilton, M. (2016) ‘Running while femaleRunners World. Retrieved 6 November 2016

60-world2 Heid, M. (2014) ‘You asked: Is running on a treadmill as good as running outside?Time. Retrieved 6 November 2016

books_icon Hitchings, R. and Latham, A. (2016) ‘Indoor versus outdoor running: understanding how recreational exercise comes to inhabit environments through practitioner talkTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers doi: 10.1111/tran.12138

60-world2 Mosley, M. (2016) ‘Is it better to run outside or on a treadmill?BBC. Retrieved 6 November 2016





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