How to Transition Your Treadmill Running Program to the Great Outdoors

The treadmill is a safe and convenient means to getting in the miles during the cold, dark days of winter, however there is a significant difference between running on the a treadmill versus outdoors. The treadmill isn’t bad or less than – its just different. Mostly due to the intensity and impact due to the wind resistance, elements and the fact that you keep up with the tread versus propelling yourself forward outside. Runners tend to shift their workouts outdoors once the weather warms, but doing so too quickly can increase your risk for injury.

Here’s how to safely transition to the outdoors this spring…

  • If you are training 100% on the treadmill, take your time in making the transition to running outside. Transition one running session outside every other week to allow your body the time it needs to adjust to the differences in running gait, impact and intensity.
  • Start with moving your shorter workouts outdoors and then progress to the longer ones. For example, if you run three miles twice per week and five miles once per week – start by transitioning one three-mile workout outside and hold this pattern for 1-2 weeks. If all feels well (no aches or pains), transition another three-miler – and so on…
  • Running and walking outdoors is more demanding than on the treadmill. Therefore, it is important to run by your effort level (breathing, how your feel) rather than your pace while making the transition to outdoor running. For instance, if you run a 10-minute mile on the treadmill, you may well be running a 10:30 outside at the same effort level (intensity). It is more effective to run by your effort level during the transition and will reduce the risk fatigue, injury, and frustration.
  • Give yourself time to learn to pace yourself outdoors. Patience is key your body will adjust in a matter of weeks. The more you run to the tune of your breath and body, the easier it is to pace in any climate, terrain and situation. Listen to your breath, adjust your speed based on how your body feels and you’ll be clicking away the miles with a smile on your face.



  • Tammysays:

    For some reason I find the opposite to be true – I find it easier to run outside. And I think the reason is because when I run outside I pace myself according to how I’m feeling throughout the run, whereas on the treadmill, I’m forced to run the same speed (unless I change it, which I don’t!) the whole time. Either way, my outdoor runs are almost always faster and feel easier than my treadmill runs.

  • Janinesays:

    Hi! Does the reverse hold true to transition from the road to the treadmill? I’m an outdoor runner and every time I run on the TM something feels sore. This winter I really want to try it again, just not sure how to do it safely. Thanks!

  • Absolutely Janine. It is equally important to transition slowly to the treadmill from the road.

  • Amysays:

    I’ve been doing the C25K app to start training for a quarter marathon (in September) with my sisters for her 60th birthday. (I’m 50) I’ve been on a treadmill because it’s hilly where I am and running around a track didn’t appeal. Well, yesterday, I tried running on a track and I couldn’t finish the workout on the app for week 4! I think I was trying to keep the same pace. (Already slow) I can definitely feel the difference today! Would you recommend starting back at the first week on the app and start running outside?

    • Hello Amy.

      I can’t guide you based on a plan that isn’t mine, but it is always wise to evaluate how things are going based on how you feel. You could ease into outdoor running once per week and add more walking to your planned workout. Hold that for a few weeks and then add a second workout outside. Once you’ve adapted, you can progress slowly with your running time in the interval. Best in training!

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