The Benefits of Trail Running Over a Treadmill

For many of us, our cardio exercise routines take us to a gym where we jump on a treadmill and pound out the miles. I don’t know about you, but for me, using a treadmill is one of the most tedious and boring ways to get my cardio in. I much prefer taking my workout outdoors and hitting the streets. I also love taking it a step further and going completely off road and hitting a nice trail. If you haven’t ever tried trail running you should seriously consider it. Here are a few reasons why trail running is better than a treadmill.


Burn More Calories

While your treadmill might have a convenient calorie counter and even adjust for weight, you will always burn more calories by hitting that trail or free running. Why? The soft ground that most trails are made of makes you work harder with each step and results in burning about 10% more calories.(source)

Improve your Balance and Judgement

Trail running normally brings a number of obstacles to your daily run that you won’t find on a treadmill. On most trails you’ll encounter the random stray log or puddle. Because of this your body is forced to do two things. You’ll balance better as you get used to taking uneven steps and you’ll improve your judgement as your brain has to quickly determine whether you need to change speeds or jump to avoid an obstacle.

A rocky running trail in the forest

Obstacles like these improve balance and judgment while you run.

Protect Your Joints

When you take yourself out of the gym and start running on trails you’ll immediately notice that there is significantly less shock on your joints. The soft ground acts a shock absorber to protect and lessen the impact on your joints. (source)

Reduce the Risk of Injury

Many runners experience injuries from the repetitive motion of running on a treadmill or on the pavement. The slight changes you have to make while running on an uneven trail are enough to counter the effects of an otherwise repetitive motion.

Build More Muscle

Every time you take a step on soft ground or sand you have to push off harder than you normally would on a hard surface to counteract sinking into the ground. This is especially true if you make it a point to run in the sand or in the snow. On top of that, you’re building up your flexor and core muscles that would otherwise go unused on a steady flat surface.

Snow Running Trail

Trails like this can really build more muscle

Increase Your Speed

Most trails offer a pretty consistent change in incline. Trail running up and down hill will increases muscle mass and strength which will translate to more speed when you hit the treadmill or track. As a matter of fact, many marathoners make it a point to include some trial running in their routines for this benefit alone.

Improve Your Mood

It’s been proven that spending time in green spaces and in nature can almost immediately improve one’s mood. Well researchers wanted to see if there was the same effect while exercising. It turns out that exercising outdoors improved feelings of revitalization and increased energy while reducing tension and anger. (source) On top of that, I don’t know how many gyms let you bring your doggy :-)


Now that you know why trail running is so much better for you than a treadmill, you should definitely go out there and give it a shot. While it may be impractical to run on a trail every time you go out, even doing it once a week will give you enough variety to reap the benefits while keeping yourself on the road to fit.

If you found this post about the benefits of trail running helpful, you may want to also check out these related posts.

5 Ways to Maximize Your Daily Fat Burning

6 Tips for Exercising at High Altitude

Boost Your Workout with HIIT

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  1. These are all GREAT reasons to run on a trail. Who wouldn’t want to burn more calories!? And, who wouldn’t want to enjoy the beautiful outdoors?

  2. This post has just highlighted the very little amount of exercise that I do!! :(

  3. This made me wonder if there were any trails near us in Playa Del Carmen, to which google presented me with this site: . Although there’s not much in the way of Playa, it looks like a great resource of crowdsourced trails.

    • Cool, I had no idea this site existed! Thanks for the tip! If you can’t find any good trails, running on the beach will yield similar results. Just don’t run in the wet part like the do in the movies, focus on the hard sand.

  4. I prefer trail running over treadmill too. Treadmill bores me to death.

  5. Since hitting the road we’ve found hashing as a great way to explore a new area, meet new friends and get some exercise in. The Hash House Harriers isn’t for everyone (lots of sexual innuendo) but it combines my love of beer with my loathe of running, so it at least gives me one reason to get out there! 😉

  6. Sorry I can’t really agree with this. Yes trail running is one of the most splendid ways to enjoy running it is also quite dangerous. I have been a runner for forty years and I will tell you that a large portion of that time was spent running in a group doing trail runs, whilst the scenery is beautiful, unexpected obstacles like roots, rocks can create a problem, I have watched most of my running group out of action for weeks and some years because of tripping over something, broken bones, broken skull, you name it, just be very very careful, and ladies becareful jogging alone.

    • Thomas,

      Thanks for the warning, but I think any form of running has it’s potential pitfalls. I know many runners who have developed injuries while running on cement and other smooth surfaces as well. The unexpected obstacles in trail running are a key part of the experience.

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