What’s better, running on a treadmill or going out for a jog?

It’s one of the simplest ways to get in shape, but weighing the pros and cons of these two ways of getting on the good foot can be as irritating as shin splints. It all comes down to what you want to accomplish with your run, both professionals and recreational runners agree.

“There are definitely benefits to both,” says Mike Bates, managing director of Human Kinetics Canada and presenter at Can-Fit-Pro. “The treadmill can be easier on the joints since most treadmills are going to have less impact on the body and the design of the treadmill itself. It’s also a great way to pace yourself since you can set a specific speed and attempt to keep pace. You can also increase the intensity level of the treadmill by increasing the incline.”

Joe Kenny, head therapist at Brock University’s Athletic Therapy Clinic, says the treadmill is especially ideal for beginning runners who want to monitor their target heart rate. The risk of injury is also significantly less, adds Kenny, though people who frequently suffer leg and lower back pains will find a treadmill’s hard surface has virtually no give compared to natural terrains.

“It’s best to run on the softest surface possible, such as wood chips and grass,” said Kenny. “In that sense, I would say going outside is better, but it also depends on your treadmill. Most fitness clubs have pretty high-level ones.”

The major downsides to treadmills beyond a hard surface, runners say, are boredom and privacy. Recreational runner Patrick Stark says he hits the pavement five days a week, rain or shine, primarily because he enjoys the changing scenery of the outdoors.

“One of the things that I really enjoy about running is being outside. A treadmill makes no sense to me from that perspective,” he said. “I run all year in any weather. I also enjoy the solitude of running on my own, something you’re not going to get if you’re in a gym surrounded by 30 other people on treadmills.”

Bates adds balance can be an issue, but it’s usually overcome after the first few times a runner uses a treadmill. He also acknowledges the existence of treadmill tedium, but says this is no reason not to get healthy.

“In my experience we have excuses for not doing just about any activity,” he said. “At some point we all need to decide what is important to us in life and hopefully we will place our health near the top of that list. Running or walking on a treadmill can be a great way to get started on your fitness program.”

Bates says a healthy mix of the two can make for a healthy routine and an effective way to get in shape.

“Any runners I have come across, including myself, prefer to run outdoors,” he said.

“It’s not a question of which is better. Everyone should do what they enjoy and what fits their schedule the best. We should also attempt to incorporate different types of activities into our exercise program so as not too overstress the body doing one type of activity all the time. Alternating the treadmill and running outside is one way of cross training.”