Fitness / Outdoor Running

What to Consider Before Switching to Outdoor Running

How to transition from the treadmill belt to the trail with ease.

Unless you braved the heat and ran outdoors this summer, the end of the season (sigh) signals the revival of outdoor running. Be it the wind in your face, the ever-changing scenery, or the fact that you’ve been stuck in the gym too damn long (with high temps to blame), there’s something refreshing about finally escaping the indoors. We love you, air conditioner, but it’s time for a break.

That said, we don’t recommend just jumping right off the treadmill and into the wild. With drastic changes in your surroundings, movement, and mental state, there’s room for injury and self-doubt if you take off too quick. But if you can ease into it, it’s a great way to enhance your workouts and even try new Aaptiv classes!

From mental blocks to the main physical challenges you might experience, we’ve broken it all down in this handy guide for going from treadmill to trail (or track!). Keep scrolling to learn how to best make the switch to outdoor running, including some tips we spotted from Aaptiv users* in our Facebook community.

Start Small

Remember the elemental changes we mentioned earlier? Because of those, it’s smart to start by taking your outdoor walks, jogs, and runs slowly. A treadmill run puts you in a controlled environment, while an outdoor run means you’ll encounter changes in terrain, incline, and weather. There’s no need to pressure yourself into running as long or fast as you typically do, because this isn’t your typical run. It takes time to adjust.

Aaptiv user Tiana suggests setting small goals, like running for two minutes then walking for one. Another user, Tahlia, makes it a point to not compete with anyone. “Run when you can, walk when you need to. Your only competition is yourself,” she says.

Find a Running Buddy

One major advantage of gym workouts is the environment. The general camaraderie of a gym is super motivating and can help make you feel less alone on your fitness journey. Mimic that same feeling by enlisting a running buddy.

“For me, having a running buddy was key when I started,” says Aaptiv member Katherine. “If I run with someone, no matter what pace, I will go way further before I need to walk or take a break. If I’m alone, I quit way earlier.”

Whether it brings out your competitive nature or serves as mutual motivation, it can be a powerful force to get you up and out. Find a scenic trail and run it together. Train for the same race. Jog to your favorite brunch spot—and celebrate with mimosas afterwards, of course. Whatever it is, a running buddy will help get you there.

Mimic the Terrain

Like we said, there are still a number of physical changes to conform to when going from indoor to outdoor running. One major factor is wind resistance. Even on the nicest days, you’ll face some level of air resistance. Since you don’t encounter wind on the treadmill, it’s easier to achieve or increase your pace. To prepare for outdoor runs set your incline to 1.5, which will make the resistance similar to the wind’s.

You can also prepare for hills by increasing your incline. If you’re unable to replicate hills, or simply want to switch it up, replicate the hill’s intensity with intervals. You’ll improve your aerobic capacity, or ability to breathe, which will ultimately help you when you hit those real hills.

Keep in mind the surface you run on will also affect your pace. Running on the treadmill is more forgiving in terms of shock and impact. So, choose soft running surfaces like grass if you’re recovering from an injury.

Build Strength

The treadmill tends to pull you forward and you use your quads to push off the belt. You’ll need to strengthen your hammies for outdoor runs because you’ll use those more to finish your stride. HIIT workouts, like “Rhythm Runner” and “Metabolic Remix” can help you prepare for the change.

Just Do It

Sometimes the most effective way to break the mental barrier is to lace up your shoes and go for it. “Not to be harsh, but you have to suck it up and just go,” says Aaptiv user Cara. “Start talking positively about how much you enjoy the outdoors and then literally, just do it!”

*All names have been changed.

Fitness Outdoor Running

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