Getting marathon ready indoors vs outdoors

There are times when weather conditions can make it difficult to do your marathon training outdoors. Hot weather can make even quick runs seem like you’re running for hours. Cold weather on the other hand can interfere in getting the full workout you need.

For these reasons, there have been many discussions about training for a marathon using a treadmill. Can you really do marathon training on a treadmill? How likely would you get a running injury? Can you use devices like the Hydragun massage gun to enhance your training? We’ll break it all down and get you marathon-ready soon enough. Without leaving home, of course.

You CAN train for a marathon indoors. Here are the To-Do’s

Woman running on a treadmill inside a gym

Let’s face it. Given the choice, you’d no doubt rather run outside. But sometimes, indoor running is the most practical option you have. Let’s say you’re training for a summer marathon. This means you have to train during the mid-to-late rainy season where slippery roads and darker nights are huge safety risks. Similarly, training during the hot summer season poses risks of dehydration and heat exhaustion.

Also, there are other circumstances when using a treadmill can be the only option to get a person ready for a marathon. People that work in cruise ships or off-shore rigs for example have been successful at using a treadmill for their marathon training. Whatever the reason for running indoors, here’s how you can be sure you’re doing your training correctly.


Just like any other workout, you need to warm up before jumping onto your treadmill and starting your training. Make sure you do stretches for a few minutes before stepping onto the treadmill. You need to raise your heart rate and get more oxygen pumped into your muscles so they’d be more efficient. For warm-ups, start with an easy 5-minute walk or jog before increasing incline and speed.

Simulate outdoor running with the right settings

Photo of a woman's hand pressing a control button on a treadmill

The biggest difference is there’s no wind resistance when you’re running on a treadmill. You’re essentially running in place and not pushing your body forward through the air. To make up for this lack of wind resistance, set your treadmill at a 1-degree incline to mimic the amount of energy you use when running outdoors.

The slight incline also does more than just correct for wind resistance. When you’re running on a treadmill, the moving belt does a lot to propel your body forward. You don’t produce as much effort with your hamstrings and glutes as when you do when you’re running outdoors.

Increasing the incline to up to 3% would give your feet and leg muscles the workout it needs as this simulates a “flat” run outdoors. Most importantly, it strengthens your legs for your big marathon day. Remember to adjust the speed settings based on your effort. So, if you’re increasing the incline, you can lower the speed to how fast you’d go when you’re outdoors. Y’know, just to keep things realistic.

Hands off the handrail (yes, we acknowledge the irony in that)

Woman wearing black tank top holding on to treadmill handrails

Handrails are only put there so you can safely get on and get off the treadmill. Many people think the handrails are there so they’d have something to hold on to while they run. They’re wrong. In fact, holding on to the handrails prevents you from getting a quality workout.

First of all, you tend to hunch over when you hold on to the handrail or the console. This is very inefficient running and causes back shoulders and neck pain. Let go of the handrail, keep your head up and your back straight. You’re not helping improve your form by relying on handrails for support. If you feel that you’re going to fall off, slow down and adjust your form.

Second, you’re not keeping up your pace and working out properly when you hold on to the console or handrail. You’re in fact making things easier for yourself, because you’re transferring your weight onto the handrail, not letting your body do that work. Besides, you’re not holding on to anything when you run outdoors. So, hands-off.

Keep your eyes up

Woman looking straight ahead while standing on a treadmill inside a gym

It’s okay to look at the console every few minutes to check how much distance and time you have left but frequently looking down at the console and worse, at your feet puts your form way off.

When you look down you tend to hunch over and this can lead to neck and back pains. Also, you could get disoriented and dizzy when you keep on lowering your head and looking back up. Looking straight ahead is the safest and most efficient way to run, whether you’re training indoors or outdoors.

Run naturally (Uh-huh – you read that correctly)

Man wearing green t-shirt, black shorts and black shoes running on a treadmill inside a gym

In other words, pay attention to your strides. The constantly moving belt makes it easy to get strides wrong because it does most of the work for you. So, you need to learn to run on the treadmill the same way you would outdoors.

Run with your natural gait and try to avoid short strides to conserve your energy. If something in your form and run feels off, slow down until you feel a more natural gait and form. Only then should you start increasing your pace.

Work on your stride count

Photo of a runner's gray and orange shoes while running on a treadmill

According to studies, the more steps you take every minute, the more efficient of a runner you become. This means you need to increase your stride count to help reduce the load you put on your hip and knee joints. After all, you wouldn’t want to go running with an injured knee come marathon day, would you?

Don’t know how to calculate your stride count? Count the number of times one foot hits the belt every minute. You can easily keep track of this because you have a timer on your treadmill’s console. Just multiply the number by two and you’ll get your number of steps per minute. Work your way up from there.

Fight boredom

Close up photo of a blonde haired woman smiling and giving a thumbs up sign while running on a treadmill

When you train and run outside, there’s plenty of things to keep your brain stimulated. The sights, the way the wind feels against your face, how you maneuver through trash bins, people walking their dogs, running over different terrains – all of these keep you from noticing how long and far you’ve actually run.

When you’re running on a treadmill and training for long marathon runs, well, boredom can set in pretty quickly. Put together a “marathon training” playlist that you can listen to. Or download audiobooks or listen to podcasts to keep you occupied while on your treadmill run.

Some runners place their treadmills in front of their TVs so they can watch the news or a show while running. There are also virtual running videos on YouTube that you can use to get that outdoor running feel and keep boredom at bay.

Don’t do these things if you want to be marathon ready

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been running on a treadmill for a long time. Even elite runners commit treadmill running mistakes every now and then. To get the most out of your training and avoid injury, here are the things you should not do when training for a marathon indoors:

Don’t wear the wrong shoes.

Close up shot of a runner wearing pink and blue shoes, while holding her knee in pain

Those pink sneakers with the wedge heel do make for awesome OOTD and #fitness posts on Instagram. Wearing them to do a workout is just plain dumb and puts you at risk of knee injuries and other problems. Vanity has no place in serious marathon training – indoor or outdoor. So, wear shoes that have extra sole support and can protect your feet and heels from the impact of your run.

Don’t train barefoot

Close up photo of someone's bare feet running on a treadmill

Let’s begin by answering the question, “Can I run barefoot on a treadmill?” Yes, you can.

Really, you’re in your house, that’s YOUR treadmill – no one can stop you. Plus, if you’re an ardent supporter of barefoot running, it’s the only way you can continue the practice indoors.

However, if you’re going to do long runs and serious marathon training using your treadmill, it’s best to wear proper running shoes. Here’s why:

  • Treadmill belts are not really comfortable to the touch – Those belts have a coarse texture. It helps with gripping the soles of your shoes so you stay balanced while running. So, running barefoot for several minutes on the belt’s surface can and will be very uncomfortable. You’d have blisters the size of saucers before you know it.
  • Your bare feet will get sweaty from running – Yes. Your feet get sweaty from running indoors or outdoors. It gets sweaty when you have socks and shoes on. It will get sweaty when you run barefoot on your treadmill for several minutes. Even if we ignore how unhygienic it is to run with sweaty feet on a treadmill – you put your safety at risk. Sweat can make the bottom of your feet slippery so you won’t get a good grip on the belt and you may stumble while the treadmill is running.
  • You won’t be running barefoot during the marathon – Remember, you have to simulate the actual marathon run as much as you can. This means also training your feet to get used to how your running shoes fit throughout the run. So, unless you’re planning to run that 20K marathon barefoot (or if you’d even be allowed to), wear shoes while training on your treadmill.

Don’t stick to the same routine

Photo of an exhausted looking man holding onto a treadmill

It can be tempting to stick to the same routine day after day. The thing though is, if you’re training for a marathon you need to replicate the same situation and environment as outdoor running. And when you’re training outdoors, you usually run over different terrains and adjust speed, run up a hill and downhill – all important to build strength.

Don’t stick to one routine. Change one aspect of your training every week. You can increase the incline of your treadmill to mimic running up a hill. You can go for faster runs to build endurance, etc. Not only will this prep you for your marathon, you actually burn more calories by mixing up your workout routines.

Don’t swing your arms all over the place

Four male marathon runners running on the street

Have you actually seen a marathon runner swinging his arms to his sides or crisscrossing them in front while in the middle of a run? No, you haven’t. Because marathon runners conserve energy by keeping their arms relaxed and bent parallel to their sides as they go.

Keeping proper running form is essential to complete these long runs. The same thing applies when you are training for a marathon indoors. You exert more effort swinging your arms when running on the treadmill. This means you get tired more quickly and won’t get much out of your training. Practice keeping your arms on your sides all the time.

Don’t overtrain

Photo of a tired looking female runner wearing a gray hoodie, leaning on a wall for support

Even Usain Bolt limits his intense training to three hours a day. Even the fastest runner on the planet knows well enough the value of rest and does not overtrain. Don’t overdo your indoor (or outdoor) marathon training. Aches and pains that come with workouts are natural and are signs that you’re progressing into your training, but setting aside time for recovery is also important

Overdoing your indoor training won’t get you any ready for that marathon. Excessive muscle soreness will only set you back. So listen to what your body is telling you and avoid training for more than an hour at a time.

Post-training recovery: Getting the balance right between rest and training

Yellow tape measure, an apple, a black dumbbell and a small chalkboard on a wood floor

One thing that new and experienced marathon runners commonly underestimate is the importance of recovery during marathon training. Whether you’re training on a treadmill or running outdoors, if you don’t give your body enough time to rest between runs and stick to a nutritious diet, fatigue will set in and you’ll be prone to muscle soreness and worse – suffer injuries that’ll put you out of marathon training for weeks.

While experienced runners may have the capacity to run every day, they don’t actually do hard training all the time. In fact, athletes do a lot of their running at an easy pace between training or events, to allow their bodies to recover. But there’s more to recovery than just the amount of time spent resting and running at an easy pace.

Mix intense training with rest or easy run days

You don’t have to hit every training hard to be a successful marathon runner. Marathons are about endurance, and thinking that you have to go hard every time you train isn’t the right mindset for the sport. You’d do just the opposite and struggle to recover

If you don’t like taking a day or two of complete rest, then make sure you mix your training with easy pace days. The varying intensities will continue to prepare your body for actual marathons while giving you the recovery time to adjust to your next intense workout.

Sleep, sleep, sleep

It doesn’t matter whether you’re training for a marathon indoors or outdoors. Getting enough sleep is a crucial part of your recovery. It’d be great if you can get 8-10 hours in, but the truth is quality of sleep is just as important.

Photo of someone's feet peeking out from under bed covers while sleeping

Keep computers and mobile phones away from your bedside and try to avoid eating a huge meal right before bedtime. Avoid late-night caffeine fixes and alcohol. Keep the lights in your bedroom low and the temperature cool to help you fall asleep faster.

Set recovery days into your training plans

If you simply increase the training volume and intensity week by week, you might find yourself burning out. As much as progressive training is important, you need to rest.

So, every three weeks into your training plan, make sure that you set days or a week for recovery. For this week you’ll have to reduce the time you spend on the treadmill to give more time for rest. Go for easy pace days by adjusting your treadmill settings to lower speeds and inclines. Or switch it up a bit and go for a massage to relax your leg and foot muscles, helping it to recover. If you’re not interested in setting massage appointments, you can get a Hydragun massage gun so you can self-massage at your own convenience.

Mental recovery days are just as important

The thing that sets marathons apart from other running events is it takes a long time for participants to finish. It’s not a 100-meter dash race where you’re done in like, 20 seconds. It’s hours and hours of running under changing weather conditions. It’s hours and hours of enduring pain and exhaustion. You need to be strong mentally as you are physically to get through a marathon.

Photo of a female marathon runner going through the finish line

This is why you need to get mental recovery days, too. During training, set aside time to spend relaxing with friends or family. We’re talking about zero treadmill running here. And zero talking about running, if you can manage it. If possible, lock your machine in a room where you can’t see it and be reminded of training.

Or do meditation exercises – anything that can quiet your mind and take it off running.  Not only does this help speed up recovery, but it also strengthens your mind to handle the stress of long marathons better.

So, would you train for a marathon on a treadmill?

Clearly, you can, so it’s just a matter of deciding if treadmill marathon training is indeed for you.  There are many benefits of running on a treadmill whether you’re preparing for an event or not. Just remember that the quality of training you put in is more important than quantity. Train smart and before long, that treadmill of yours will get you all rearing to go for that marathon.

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One Comment

  1. Martin F January 23, 2022 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    As a former marathoner and lifelong runner I’ve done my share of treadmill training, both at home and in a gym setting with others around. Many people, myself included, tend to run too far forward on the treadmill. The result is a tendency to chop your stride and also unconsciously carry your arms and shoulders too high. If I could give others only one piece of advice about treadmill training it would be to drift back 6 inches or so from the control panel to make sure your stride and arm carriage aren’t impeded compared to running outside

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