Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Which burns more calories?

Which form of running is more efficient: treadmill or running outside?

I put that question in Google's search bar and was surprised to find the first hit, an article from Shape magazine, showed no discernible difference in calorie burn until you start running a 10-mile-an-hour pace. Some sources confirmed this finding, while others touted one or the other.

One article championed the treadmill because it's there. If you've invested your hard-earned cashmoneybucks in the equipment, and you don't have to drive someplace to use it, and you can use it in all weather conditions, then it's the most efficient way to blast away fat.

I didn't create a spreadsheet listing the pros and cons from each author's research, but the general impression I get is that outdoor running probably burns more calories. The running surface is uneven and sometimes hilly, and your body does have to work harder to overcome wind resistance and dodge potholes.

Sometimes, though, it's the treadmill or nothing at all. Raising the incline will increase the intensity and provide a more challenging workout if you're running indoors.

My preference is to take it outside. I've used the treadmill a couple times recently, though, due to weather, and am surprised at how much harder it seems to be on my knees. However – I'm running constantly at 5 to 5.2 mph at a 2 to 3 percent incline on the treadmill. When I'm outside, I mostly walk or jog at a 4 mph pace.

I could do neither without the music on the Shuffle. [Well, of course I could, but it would be excruciatingly boring, in my not-so-humble opinion.]

Yesterday I did six miles on the treadmill in 71 minutes. One cannot get more bored.

Moving on to knitting … I've finished the sleeves of the Oat Couture Seville Jacket, and have about a third of the cabled edge completed. I'll block the sleeves today, and sew them into the body tomorrow. I made my jacket a bit longer – it's supposed to be cropped, but that's not a good look for me – and I also made wrist-length sleeves instead of three-quarter, as the pattern instructs. Since the body is longer, I'll need more length on the edging, which goes all the way around the fronts, back neck and lower edge of the piece.

What I'm planning to do is knit about 90 inches – talk about boring! – and then block it. That will make sewing it onto the sweater a little easier. I think 90 inches will be too much, but in this case I'd rather rip some out to get the right amount, since I want it all blocked before I start sewing. [You non-knitters can uncross your eyes now.]

I thought my next project would be Knitty's Tilt, but my daughter-in-law has two friends who are having three babies this fall, and I'd much rather work on quick-to-knit baby things for a while. The expected twins are a boy and a girl, so I think I'll make a couple of lightweight cream-colored cardigans with some colorful Fair Isle patterning. Maybe a dark rose for the girl and dark green for the boy. No namby-pamby pinks and blues here! The other baby's gender will be a surprise, but I've made a cream-colored, Wonderful Wallaby, to which I add some Aran patterning, for other babies in the past, and it works for either sex. So the Tilt will be on deck.

If you have an opinion, some personal experience or a definitive source that answers the 'which is better at burning calories: treadmill or outdoor running' question, I'd love to hear it!


stretch said...

Well the treadmill has benefits:
having a bathroom nearby, being able to jog when the weather is icy, privacy, (no jogging past dogs and strollers) and jogging alone in a semi wooded area can always be dicey. Last summer we were doing just that, when in broad daylight two very drunk men jumped out in front of us onto the path...from nowhere it seemed... while they were too drunk to do more than laugh & hoot at us, they just startled us so terribly ... I still jog outdoors a lot, but am more aware of what is all around me. A friend of mine is having some menopause issues,
so she prefers treadmilling her hour in 15 min segments. Sometimes I like jogging for 20 mins while dinner is baking. I can roast a chicken while I jog and catch the evening news then too. multi-tasking! If I want to watch something idiotic on TV I get on the treadmill to watch it.

In beautiful weather nothing beats jogging outdoors--I prefer it sans music though, I like being in nature w/the sky and trees, feel the sun, the shade and the breeze, hear the birdsong and dogbark!

Elizabeth said...

Debbi, I do my running on the treadmill for several reasons. I don't want to be out on the street for all to see, it's indoors so I can't use weather for an excuse, and I can do it at zero-dark-thirty, which is the only time I can fit exercise into my life b/c I am too @#$% lazy after work. I do, however, enjoy running outside - oh, especially at the beach! - because it's less boring, it's easier to change pace and the joys of nature are an extra bonus. I am more likely to push myself outdoors.

Greta said...

There is a book "A Scientific Approach to Distance Running" by David L. Costill copyright 1979. I lent someone my original copy and bought another for a dollar or two at www.half.com.

In the section Physiological Response During Distance Running, subsection Energy Expenditure p. 42 It says: "On average, distance running requires approximately 60 kcal/km or about 96 kcal/mile. Margaia, et al (51) and others (13,56) have shown that the total energy expenditure of horizontal running per kilometer is CONSTANT AND INDEPENDENT OF VELOCITY. That is to say, running a given distance will require the same amount of energy regardless of the runner's speed. Only the rate of energy utilization will differ. This is illustrated by the regression in Figure 2-1. Using subject Ted Corbitt as an example, we see that to run a marathon at a velocity of 200 meters/minute (eight minute mile) would cost him 11.3 kcal/min. (VO2=2.25 L/min). At that speed it would require 209.6 minutes for him to complete the distance with a total energy expenditure of 2,370 kcal. If he were able to cover the same distance at a speed of 268 meters/min (six min/mile), requiring 15.9 kcal/min (VO2=3.25 L/min) his running time would be reduced to 157.2 minutes with his total energy expenditure of 2,499 kcal. Although his AVERAGE VELOCITY WAS INCREASED 34%, THE TOTAL ENERGY EXPENDITURE INCREASED ONLY 5.4%."

What all this says in summary is that it DOES NOT MATTER how FAST you go. It only matters HOW FAR you go. You can walk a mile, run a mile or run a mile fast and you will burn the SAME number of calories. The only reasons that speed come into the picture at all are for heart health and to get the workout done fast enough to fit into our busy lives. If you WALKED the six miles you would burn just as many calories as if you ran the six miles at your fastest pace.

So now we get to treadmill miles versus land miles. I think if you set the incline high enough on a treadmill you can simulate most any outdoor running. On the few occasions that I use a treadmill, my preference is to set the incline to the highest setting that the machine allows and to slow down a bit which I need to at that incline. I get a much better thigh and butt workout, and it simulates what I do in real life which is hill walking. I also find that the steep incline and slower pace is easier on my knees.

I would not worry about any minor differences in calorie output between the outdoor running and the treadmill. If you wanted to know which was burning more calories per minute you could get an easy check on it just by taking your pulse midworkout outdoors and do the same on the treadmill. I would bet that you are working about equally hard per minute because you probably have a good sense of what your body can tolerate.

Like the other posters who have already commented, I would choose my workout based on what you find most pleasurable that day. If it's pouring rain it will be more pleasurable to run or walk on the treadmill. If the weather is lovely it will be more pleasurable to be outdoors. It's great that you have the option.

Anonymous said...

Hi Debbi,
Once again I have t tell you how much I love your blog and that it has been an inspiration to me. As far as the land v. treadmill running goes, year before last I had a coworker who was quite heavy but a natural runner tell me that the treadmill was about half as difficult as running outdoors. She didn't mention the kness issue but was only in her twenties.Personally, I can only force myself to run outdoors. I like observing the weather and my jneighborhood and besides, treadmills are so boring. I can't even force myself to run on a track.
Valerie, your friend from Knitlist.

Marilyn B said...

I had a long comment written yesterday when AOL crashed on me AGAIN! This is the gist of what it said.

I seem to remember from a college class taken several years ago called, "Diet, Fitness, and Weight Loss", that anytime you move your body through space you will burn more calories than when you are in a stationary position. When I do water aerobics I always try to move either forward or backward in the water as I do the movements. I would think run/walk outside would be a bit more calorie burning than treadmill but the treadmill would be much better than not running/walking because of the weather or other factors.

I also made a comment on sweater length. Most of us trying to lose some weight will want to wear our sweaters a bit longer than we probably should. A lot of attractive sweater length depends on our height. Many sweaters I buy cut me right in half since I'm short. Look for proportion rather than length. 2/5 vs 3/5 really does look good. Take an overall measurement from top of shoulder to bottom of clothing length..skirt hem or pant hem...divide by 5 and then multiply by two, then by three. For tunic length go with 3/5 and top length go with 2/5. I find with a decorative top and plain pant or skirt that shorted length really is more attractive on me than trying to cover up what is there that I don't want to show.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of moving **through ***space, rather than staying in a small area.