Is Running in Place as Good as Running?


As temperatures drop and quarantining becomes our new reality, getting creative about fitness has become essential- especially for us runners. If you don’t have a treadmill at home or the weather is too frightful to run outside, you may have considered running in place.  

Running in place is similar to traditional running in that it can provide cardiovascular benefits, burn calories, and work your muscles. However, as a comprehensive workout, traditional running is much more effective for overall fitness and health. 

Depending on your goals, both methods of running can be a great way to get into shape and increase overall well-being. Knowing which to use and when will increase just how effectively you work and move you more quickly toward your objectives. 

Is Running in Place as Good and Effective as Running?

Running in place can provide similar benefits to running. Running in place, like any cardiovascular exercise, is good for overall health. Depending on the intensity, you can even burn the same amount of calories as traditional running. However, when we take a closer look at muscle use and logistics, they are fundamentally quite different. 

The major muscles used for running in place include: 

Quadriceps (dominant)

Core (dominant)

Hamstrings

Shins 

Glutes 

Abductor and adductor (auxiliary muscles)

Though many of the same muscles are used in running, our range of motion is greatly limited when running in place. This means that our glutes and hamstrings are not as involved in the work as there is no forward motion. Running uses more muscles like your glutes and requires muscles to work much harder. This makes workouts more effective. 

Joints can take a beating when running in place for long periods or with poor form. In traditional running, our stride is cushioned by the midfoot or heel. This allows for a more natural movement through our feet, knees, and hips as we propel forward. Running in place forces us to strike on the balls of our feet. This is less natural and can lead to pain and injury. 

Overall running in place can be boring and hard to sustain over long periods. For these reasons, it is better used as a warm-up or in HIIT (high-intensity interval training), as opposed to stand-alone workouts. More on that later. Depending on your goals, both exercises are a great way to get moving.

What does ‘Effective’ Mean for You?  

It’s important to note that the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of intense aerobic exercise a week. Traditional running and running in place are two great and effective options touting many benefits, including: 

Heart health: according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, aerobic exercise can reduce your chances of getting heart disease by 45% percent! That means overall lower blood pressure and cholesterol to make up for nights when fries sound too good to resist. 
Muscles and joints: Cardio strengthens your joints and can even help prevent the development of arthritis. Many forms of cardio, like running, also work major muscle groups, like your core and leg muscles, strengthening them over time. 
Bones: after age 30, we begin to lose bone density. High impact exercises like running can help curb this biological phenomenon and strengthen density, which kickstarts bone growth. 
Stress: in times like these, when so much can be uncertain, finding a good way to unwind is essential to our mental health. Cardio is a great option as it forces you to focus on breathing and form, and therefore on being present. It also can help boost your memory and confidence, a win-win! 
Burning calories: cardio is a great way to burn calories, as on average, we burn anywhere between 80 and 140 calories per mile running (depending on body composition and intensity). 

Benefits of Running in Place 

Running in place is a great way to warm-up before doing a strength training or cardio-intense workout. Warming up is an important part of avoiding injury and continually performing at your highest potential. 

Running in place can also be used in tandem with other bodyweight exercises, like planks, squats, and push-ups. Combining cardio and strength movements means you reap the maximum benefits: burn fat and increase endurance with cardio, build muscle and bone density through strength movements. Follow strength with cardio to shred extra fat. 

Another benefit to running in place is just how simple it is. No need to leave the warmth of your house or have extensive equipment on hand. All you’ll need is some space and your own body to break a sweat. If you’re not a fitness expert, no worries! This movement is straight-forward and easy to master for any fitness level.

Pro tip: place a resistance band around your thighs while you run in place for an extra burn.

When performed correctly, running in place is an overall great aerobic exercise that can help increase agility, balance, and even posture. 

Benefits of Traditional Running

Traditional running is much less monotonous than running in place. It is a great way to get outside, breathe fresh air, and clear your mind. The best part is, all you need is a pair of shoes and your motivation! 

As we know, running is a great way to burn calories and work major muscle groups. Muscles used in traditional running are similar to those used for running in place. Unlike with running in place, these muscles are all highly engaged throughout the movement. These muscles include: 

Core muscles: your core muscles bridge together your upper and lower body and are important for protecting your back and keeping you balanced. A strong back and core can improve your posture and strengthen muscles around your spine. Overall agility will improve, and you will be more stable when walking or standing. 

Hip flexors: your leg muscles take the bulk of the work. Hip flexors connect your thigh to your hip and stabilize your body as you drive your knees up. 

Quadriceps: quadriceps located on the front of your thigh, also stabilize your knee. Strong hips and quads mean more effective, injury-free movement. 

Glutes: glutes, or your buttocks muscles, play a major role as they help drive you forward in your run. Strong glutes mean faster running and better balance. They work together with your hips to maintain equilibrium and good posture.

Hamstrings: these muscles run straight up and down the back of your thighs. They help push you off the ground as you stride forward. Working with your quads to drive your knees up and forward, they also help your leg slow down as it straightens. They are key muscles in protecting your knees and hips from hyperextending.

Calf Muscles: the calf muscles are key in ankle mobility and absorbing the shock of your foot striking the ground. They also help propel you forward.

Bonus: tendons and ligaments get some love too! These connective tissues hold your bones together and absorb the force of impact in each step as you run. Over time your body adapts to this stress, becoming stronger and more efficient. 

Running outside V.S. the Treadmill

Though running, in general, provides for a higher intensity workout, and therefore a stronger body and mind, you be wondering if running outside or on the treadmill is more effective? Both use the same muscles and can provide all the benefits of an aerobic workout, but they are not created equal. 

For one, running outside doesn’t require any equipment or a gym subscription. A pair of good running shoes and the open road will suffice in getting your heart-pumping. However, keep in mind that running outside can be more difficult. Different elevations and the wind require you to exert more energy to keep on pace.

Running outside requires you to adapt and stay focused on the task at hand. Due to its increased difficulty, it also engages and strengthens the muscles and bones in your legs more effectively. Your treadmill is a much softer surface than the street or sidewalk outside, so the impact will not be as intense on your ankles, knees, and ligaments.

Running on the treadmill is, therefore, easier and generally burns fewer calories overall than running outside. It also requires you to invest in expensive equipment, or get a gym membership. Running on the treadmill can also be repetitive and monotonous, which may curb your motivation to get moving. 

If you can’t get outside, consider upping the intensity on the treadmill by increasing the incline level to simulate hills and keep things interesting. Consider getting a treadmill like this one by Peloton that has a unique ‘free-mode’ option. Instead of the treadmill belt moving under you, you must drag the belt with your body, which spices things up and increases the difficulty and effectiveness of your workout. 

HIIT V.S. Steady-State Cardio 

Running in place and traditional running can be used in different ways. Distance running, whether on the treadmill or outside, is considered a form of steady-state cardio. Steady-state cardio is straightforward, as you perform the same activity at a steady rate for thirty minutes or more, aiming for 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Steady-state cardio is an aerobic activity- meaning your body uses oxygen, or your breathing, as fuel for your muscles to help burn calories and fat. This is a great way to strengthen your cardiovascular system, and generally, these activities can be performed anywhere, with minimal equipment. 

HIIT workouts, or high-intensity interval training, require bursts of energy for short periods and varying intensity levels. Your heart rate will increase to max levels and then drop again, forcing your body to work harder to get stronger. This type of workout is anaerobic, meaning you are fueled both by both oxygen and stored carbohydrates. 

Running in place can be used as a great HIIT workout. Try running in place for 30 to 45 seconds, then performing lower intensity strength workouts in between, like push-ups. This ultimate duo packs a punch, getting you the most out of both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. 

How to Effectively Run in Place 

Now we’ve discussed how these two forms of running can be effectively used as tools in their own ways, but how exactly does one run in place? If you’re unsure or would like a refresher, don’t worry. Just follow the simple steps below, and you’ll be on your way to running in place safely and effectively. 

Step 1: Find a space in your house where you have room to move. This can be anywhere. If the sun is shining, get outside! 

Step 2: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your chest up and open. Drive your right knee up to hip level, lifting your left hand at the same time in a swift motion. 

Step 3: Quickly shift the weight to your right foot, driving up your left knee and raising your right arm.

Step 4: Repeat this motion continually, using your arms for balance and momentum. 

If you’re still unsure, the video below will help you visualize how the movement should look. Running in place can be simple and effective if you follow these steps. To add to your success, make sure you are maintaining a regular workout schedule, eating a healthy diet, and using the correct equipment. 

Creating a Workout Schedule 

Sticking to a regular workout routine can seem daunting at first. Keep in mind that habits are formed over time and with consistency. The same thing applies to a workout routine. The first and most important step is determining your goals: 

Do you want to run a 5k, 10k, or marathon race?

Do you want to increase your overall strength? 

What about burning fat and slimming down your waistline? 

Depending on your goals, incorporating running or running in place into your workout routine can be an effective way of propelling you toward your goals. 

Once you determine a goal, you can then start planning your workouts. Aim for 3 days a week to start, then increase from there. Long-distance running goals mean conditioning your body with 2 to 3 30 minute runs a week. On off days, incorporate strength training to keep things interesting and build the muscle to make you a more efficient runner. 

If your goal is to burn fat and build strength, a HIIT workout could be a good option. Intervals mean you work hard for short periods (20-45 seconds), then take a break in between to bring your heart rate down. Running in place is a good cardio component. Mix in strength workouts using weights or your body to build muscle.

Don’t forget to rest! Rest is just as important as the work. This is when your body recovers from the stress of running or strength training and rebuilds to become stronger. Resting is essential to avoiding injury and therefore reaching your goals safely and effectively. Now, what about equipment?

Equipment for Success 

The kind of shoes you use and workout clothes you wear to workout can be a huge factor in staying motivated and comfortable while getting fit. Finding the right shoe for your body can mean running faster and minimizing pain and discomfort. 

Hoka brand shoes combine cushion and comfort with lightweight construction. More comfort means less impact on your ankles, hips, and knees while both running and running in place. These shoes are so good; even the American Pediatric Medical Association gave their seal of acceptance.  

Asics also provides great quality for those of us who like to run in style. Specifically, their Gel-Kayano line of shoes is especially comfortable and fashion-forward. The upper mesh lining cools your feet, while the sole provides stability and cushion to keep you moving. Bonus: there are so many designs to choose from for both men and women!

Mizuno offers a wide range of running shoes, but their Wave inspire 16 shoe has it all. Style, comfort, and their own Wave Knit technology make for the right amount of stretch, support, and impact absorption to fashionably run your way to success. 

The shoes you pick for running or running in place can either help or hurt you, so make sure to choose wisely to maximize your efficiency. 

Conclusion 

Overall, running and running in place are both great ways to get moving, burn fat, and get heart-healthy benefits. However, it is important to keep in mind how to use each of these workouts to their ultimate potential. Traditional running may be more effective as a comprehensive workout, whether outside or on a treadmill. 

Running in place uses many of the same muscles as running, however, to a lesser degree than running, and therefore can be less effective depending on our goals. Running in place can also be hard to sustain over long periods, making it a great warm-up or HIIT workout component. 

Make sure to be clear, realistic, and consistent when forming fitness goals so you can more effectively reach success. Regardless of whether you choose running or running place to be active, it’s important to move your body every day to lead a healthy and happy lifestyle. 

Sources:

https://www.gq.com/story/treadmill-runs-vs-outside-runs-explained

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/8-weeks-to-your-first-race#3

https://www.gq.com/story/treadmill-runs-vs-outside-runs-explained

https://www.healthline.com/health/what-muscles-get-used-when-you-run#calf-muscles

https://www.sharecare.com/health/running/in-place-as-effective-as-running-on-a-treadmill

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise: Which Is Right for You? (goldsgym.com)

abel

Retired Athlete, Retired Personal Trainer, Retired University Teacher, Retired Sales Manager...

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