Outdoor workout myths get repeated often enough that people end up believing them. But that doesn’t make it right. We asked some experts to fact check these typical tales. Learn what’s correct and what’s not so you can create more efficient workouts.
MYTH: IT’S HARDER TO RUN ON ASPHALT THAN A TREADMILL
Fact check: False. “As far as firmness goes, a treadmill and asphalt are about the same, so your form doesn’t need to change, and the impact on your joints is similar,” says Meghan Kennihan, a USATF running coach. “I recommend my clients skip the light-colored sidewalk and stick to the dark gray/black asphalt road surfaces.”
In a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers found that runners’ biomechanical patterns didn’t change when running outside versus on a treadmill. In addition, the same journal published a study that showed participants’ VO2max was the same running outside versus a treadmill. Thus, running on either asphalt or a treadmill requires about the same effort.
MYTH: RUNNING ON CONCRETE IS MORE IMPACT THAN ASPHALT
Fact check: False. Thinking asphalt is softer than concrete misses the greatest considerations. “When we look at the whole equation, it becomes clear that we must consider how much cushion our shoes provide, the biomechanics of our feet and if we are using proper running form,” says Brady Irwin, owner and coach of Science of Speed. “All of these factors reduce the amount of force placed on our bodies.” He encourages runners to make the right choice for their bodies — you can’t make a blanket statement that asphalt is the right choice for all.
However, you do need to stay mindful of where you are running and research state pedestrian laws. Some states require runners to use a sidewalk when available.
MYTH: WORKING OUT IN THE GYM IS MORE COMFORTABLE AND EASIER TO MOTIVATE
Fact check: False. In a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers calculated the effects of participating in physical activity within natural environments versus indoors. They found that outdoor exercise provided greater feelings of revitalization and higher energy levels, as well as lowered tension, depression and anger. Participants expressed overall higher satisfaction with outdoor activity than staying indoors to workout.
“Doing your workout outdoors gives you more energy than the gym. Fresh air for 20 minutes is equivalent to drinking one cup of coffee in terms of its energy-boosting effects,” says Kennihan. Being outdoors on a hike or in a park also helps with focus, allowing you to be in the moment and enjoy the movement of your body versus counting down the seconds on the elliptical.” Once you’ve felt the taste of this workout resurgence, you may feel more motivated to move your workout outside.
MYTH: YOU CRAMP UP FROM DEHYDRATION FASTER OUTSIDE THAN IN
Fact check: False. You need to stay well hydrated when exercising in any environment, but the idea that dehydration causes muscle cramps might not be true. In a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found increased running speed accounted for cramping rather than dehydration or sodium level fluctuations. Thus, if you cramp up more exercising outside, it’s probably because you’re simply running faster than you do indoors.
”Even runners who have monitored their fluids closely can cramp up, especially if they pushed the pace too hard, too soon,” says Justin Horneker, head running coach at Anthrophysique. “A big reason why we experience muscle cramping is because the cellular environment has become too acidic. This happens when oxygen supply to the cells of the muscle is slower than the acidic byproducts the cell is producing during intense running.”
MYTH: MOUNTAIN BIKING BURNS MORE CALORIES THAN ROAD BIKING
Fact check: Depends. How you treat your ride determines what type of biking burns more calories. If you ride a road bike downhill for an hour and don’t pedal, you’ll burn fewer calories than an hour uphill technical ride on a mountain bike. If you want a better gauge of how many calories you burned in a workout, check out MapMyRide’s calorie calculator.
But whether you prefer fat or thin tires, you’ll reap benefits. “Cycling uses your upper body and stabilizers. It’s really a whole-body workout,” says Anthony Flask, head strength and conditioning coach of NY Sports Science Lab. “It provides huge hypertrophy gains in the lower body. A cyclist with a lot of muscle is burning more calories three to four fold than someone sedentary.”
READ MORE > 10 GREAT THINGS ABOUT MOUNTAIN BIKING
MYTH: SPIN CLASS IS A BETTER WHOLE-BODY WORKOUT THAN CYCLING OUTDOORS
Fact check: False. Staying indoors can limit your cycling fitness gains, despite the fact that you typically stand up more often in a spin class. “With hills, mountain climbing and changes in elevation, speed and intensity, cycling outdoors is like a Fartlek workout with no structure, not to mention the psychological demands — you‘ll get the VO2 benefits over a regular cycle class,” says Erik Bonn, certified athletic trainer of NY Sports Science Lab. But again, cycling, in any capacity, is good cardiovascular exercise.