Should You Join the Gym or Run Outside?

Making the decision to exercise should be a no-brainer. The hard part is deciding where to exercise. There are many benefits to joining a gym but there are also so many benefits to running outside. So what should you do, join a gym or run outside?

The pros of joining a gym can include; having a variety of exercise options, motivation from other people and the environment, the ability to work in person with a trainer, and the extra amenities. Possible cons of joining a gym can include; the cost, lack of cleanliness, set days and times that you can access the gym, the potential of the gym being crowded, and the hassle of having to go somewhere to work out.

The pros of running outside can include; no cost, the ability to do it anytime and anywhere, the convenience of being able to open your door and go, it requires minimal equipment, and there are numerous mental health benefits. Potential cons of running outside can include; having to prepare for weather and other challenging environmental conditions, safety concerns, possible lack of motivation, boredom, and loneliness.

From these lists, we can see there are a lot of positives and negative to joining a gym or running outside. The best option may be to first identify your goals and then look for what motivates you the most. Whatever you decide, it is up to you to follow through with your decision to reap the benefits.

If you are unsure what your goals are, maybe you should start by identifying your health and fitness goals.

Goal Setting Comes First

When deciding to either get a gym membership or just run outside, the first step in determining your best exercise option is to identify your goals. Are you looking to lose weight? To keep up with your kids? Run a Marathon? Start Rock Climbing? Whatever your goal may be, make it a SMART goal.

S- Specific. Your goal should be clear and easy to understand.

M- Measurable. How will you track your progress and how you will know when you have reached your goal?

A- Attainable. You have to know how high or low you want to go. It’s good to ‘shoot for the stars’, but don’t be too extreme. Likewise, a goal that is too easy is also not very motivating.

R- Relevant. Set goals that are important to where you are in your life. Don’t set a goal that someone else is pressuring you to attain.

T- Time Bound. Include an end-point. Knowing that you have a deadline motivates you to get started.

SMART Goal Examples

“I want to be able to deadlift 200 pounds for 5 sets of 5 reps in 3 months.”

 “I want to be able to run a 10k in less than 50 minutes.”

Joining a Gym vs Running Outside

From these SMART goal examples, it may be easy to identify which person would want to join the gym and which person would want to run outside.

While the person who deadlifts may benefit from the overall healthy adaptations of cardiovascular training, he will want to focus on strength and power exercises to help him successfully reach his goal. Therefore he will benefit more from joining a gym.

The person with the 10k time goal may benefit from going to the gym as there is a variety of cardio equipment. Plus he will find improved running speed by incorporating strength training with his 10k training. If he person joins the gym, he will be able to benefit from the overall healthy adaptations of strength training. But most likely, this runner can easily benefit from running outside and incorporating body weight exercises for the strengthening component of training for a 10k.

How Can Running Improve Leg Strength?

If you are wanting to skip the gym and run outside, you may be able to still improve your leg strength and work towards a strength or weight lifting goal. The type of running you do makes a big difference. During long-distance running, you build leaner muscles. During shorter, harder running like sprinting, you build bulkier muscles. This has to do with the different muscle fiber types. Sprinters use more fast-twitch muscle fibers which are the more common muscle fiber type used when deadlifting or performing other lower leg strengthening exercises. Sprinting requires significant muscle demand of your glutes and hamstrings. And uphill sprinting builds even more muscular strength and endurance. Typically any type of running can be performed outside as no equipment is needed.

How Can Leg Strengthening Improve Running?

If you are wanting to join the gym and skip on running outside, you may still be able to improve your running through deadlifting or squatting. Research has shown that an increase in leg strength contributes to increased sprinting ability. Another study looked at heavy resistance, lower leg strengthening performed 3 days a week for 10 weeks. During this time the participants continued their normal running training. After 10 weeks, leg strength had increased by an average of 30%. The overall results of this study indicate that “certain types of endurance performance, particularly those requiring fast-twitch fiber recruitment, can be improved by strength-training supplementation.” So yes, your running times, especially your short, hard bouts of running can be improved with deadlifting, squatting, or other leg strengthening exercises. Typically these types of exercises are done at a gym with the appropriate equipment.

Try These Workouts at the Gym or Outside

It seems that you can reach some goals more easily by joining a gym. But that doesn’t mean some goals can’t be met by running outside. Either way, give these leg burning exercises a shot, some for outside, some for in the gym.

Leg Blaster

3 sets on a 4:00 Timer

20 Air Squats

20 Lunges

20 Jumping Lunges

10 Jumping Squats

Road Runner

400 Meter Sprint

40 Jump Squats

300 Meter Sprint

30 Jump Squats

200 Meter Sprint

20 Jump Squats

100 Meter Sprint

10 Jump Squats

The Crippler

30 Back Squats

Run 1 Mile

Run, Deadlift

12 Minutes, As Many Rounds as Possible

400 Meter Run

5 Heavy Deadlifts

Related Questions

Should I lift weights or run first?

Most fitness experts suggest you run before you do any weight training. They state that if you do cardio first, it could use up too much of your energy needed for strength training. You may reach a point of fatigue before you are at a load that is required to make true strength changes in your muscles. But if you look at CrossFit and the success of many CrossFit athletes, it seems that a variety in your training routine may be beneficial. It all depends on your goals.

What is the difference in running on the treadmill or outside?

Running on a treadmill may be easier than running outside. A treadmill provides more shock absorption and the belt assists with leg turnover. Plus you have the ability to decide the pace and incline by the click of a button. Outside you have to muster up the motivation to kick up the gear. However, running on the dread-mill, I mean treadmill, can be very boring for some people. With that being said, outside running make come easier to some people.


ACE Fitness: Goal Setting – Create A Goal The SMART Way

LiveStrong: Does Running Give You Muscular Legs?

Quora: Does Sprinting Uphill Help My Squats And Deadlifts?

NSCA Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research: Relationship Between Maximal Squat Strength and Five, Ten, and Forty Yard Sprint Times

Journal Of Applied Physiology: Potential for Strength and Endurance Training to Amplify Endurance Performance