In the late 90s and early 00s there was a standard joke in stand-up comedy sets. It revolved around the idea of people driving 2 miles to the gym just so that they could run for 4 miles on a treadmill. The joke being that they could have just run outside.
But there are plenty of reasons why people do this. The purpose of this article is to compare and contrast running outside in a park to performing cardio in a gym. Hopefully helping you to decide which is the best place for you to get your cardio.
Benefits of outdoor cardio
The first thing we should do is look at the benefits of training outdoors. In this scenario, we are going to assume that you already have a gym membership and use it for resistance training. Which is why saving money is not on this list.
Benefit #1 Saves Time
Doing your cardio in the park can save you a lot of time. There is no queueing for equipment, no searching for a locker, and parking is going to be a lot easier (if it is even needed). Saving time means that your cardio will be less of an inconvenience, so you are more likely to continue with it.
Benefit #2 More Freedom
With running outdoors, you have the freedom to run in whichever direction you like, you can pick whether you run on grass or on the path, and you can even change parks if you’re bored. When you are running on a treadmill you run forwards on a hard surface at the speed that you choose.
Benefit #3 More Sociable
While it is technically possible to run with a friend in a gym (by taking two treadmills that are adjacent) it is not really the same. If you are running with a friend, or cycling, you can do so together at the same pace. When running outside you can run with as many friends as you want.
Benefit #4 Social Distancing is a LOT easier
This article is being written during the Coronavirus pandemic. So talk about social distancing etc is very much a current issue. But it is a valid point that has been overlooked for too long. Before Corona, people who were sick were still walking into gyms to “sweat it out”. All it takes is for someone next to you to start coughing and you will start to yearn for your local park!
Downsides of outdoor cardio
So far, exercising outdoors in your local park is probably sounding rather good. But there are downsides to it:
Downside #1 More Dangerous
While falling off a treadmill is NOT enjoyable, it is actually fairly rare. There are multiple safety features that make it quite difficult to do. Performing your cardio outdoors though has many hazards. Other people, roaming dogs, slippery ground, and inclement weather (more on that later). You are much more likely to fall over while running/cycling outdoors.
Downside #2 Weather
Let’s face it, wind, rain, or bright sunshine can all ruin a run! None of these are things that affect you in a gym. Not only can bad weather (or in the case of sunshine, good weather) affect your motivation and enjoyment. It can also be dangerous.
Heat exhaustion, sunstroke, sunburn can all occur if you run in weather that it too hot. Rain can lead to poor visibility, slippery conditions, and storms can bring lightning into the equation. Not that being struck by lightning is exactly common!
Downside #3 Lack of Choice
One big benefits of gyms is that they offer a huge variety of cardio options. X-trainers, treadmills, upright bikes, recumbent bikes, rowing machines, and those are just the common ones! There are loads of uncommon cardio machines which are popping up everywhere (Jacob’s ladders is a great one).
In a park you have either running or cycling, and that is if you own a bike. Of course, there are cardio-based sports such as football, basketball etc … but that is a whole other subject. We are comparing structured cardio here.
Park vs Gym for Cardio
To be honest, the right answer here is … why not both?
Mix things up! Weather looking gorgeous? Get out into your local park and go for a run. Weather looking terrible? Maybe the treadmill is a better choice.
The fitness world spends way too much time treating every decision like it is a binary issue. CrossFit or Olympic Weightlifting. Barbell bench press or dumbbell bench press. Front squats or back squats. There is room for both.
Do not get caught up worrying about the downsides of either the gym or the park, just do whichever feels best on the day.
If you don’t have a gym membership and want to do some cardio, then you can save a small fortune by using your park. If you have a gym membership and your local park is a bit sketchy then use the gym!