Do You Burn More Fat Running on the Treadmill or Outside?

Organizations like the American Heart Association suggest that all adults get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week, or about 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. One of the primary ways that many people achieve this goal is through running, which provides a high-calorie burn that can contribute to fat loss. When running you have two different choices, indoor and outdoor. However, the amount of fat you can burn with each running option is based more on intensity level rather than location.

Calorie Deficit

In order to burn fat, you need to create a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit occurs when you burn more calories than you consume. When this happens, your body is forced to turn to other sources for energy, typically starting with the fat stored in your adipose tissue. In relation to running, how much fat you burn depends on the intensity of your exercise, with more intense exercise being associated with greater potential fat burning.


One factor that determines whether you burn more calories on a treadmill versus outside is incline. The steeper the incline, the harder your muscles have to work to propel you up the hill. As such, if the setting of your treadmill is at a higher setting than the natural incline of your running route outdoors --- and in both cases you are running the same speed --- you are going to burn more calories on the treadmill. If the outdoor incline is greater, you will burn more calories outdoors.


Speed can also affect whether you burn more calories running outdoors or on a treadmill. Like increasing your incline, increasing your speed also burns more calories and help you create a greater calorie deficit. However, on a treadmill, maintaining a constant speed is more achievable since you can set the treadmill belt to move at the speed of your choice, while running outside can cause variances in your speed throughout the route.


Using the machine's handles can cause you to burn fewer calories on a treadmill. Many people use treadmill handles for balance and support. However, when you don't hold on to the handles, you engage your core muscles more for balance, resulting in a slight increase in calorie burn. Not holding onto the handles also allows you to swing your arms or hold them up close to your side in a running position, which also slightly increases your calorie burn.


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