Is Running in Place as Healthy as Actually Running?

One thing’s for certain — it’s a lot less stressful than running outside during a pandemic

It’s weeks into most states’ COVID-induced stay-at-home orders, and the change of routine is, for many of us, the new normal. Outside the house is now bad, and inside is our cocoon of safety. In an amazing display of ingenuity, that’s led to a number of innovations in how we as humans get along in our daily lives, whether that’s weekly video-conferencing parties as a means of socializing, home gardening as a means of self-sufficiency and the widespread adoption of a number of toilet-paper alternatives as a means of avoiding being disappointed at the empty shelves of the supermarket.

How we exercise is another part of our daily lives that’s seen a massive amount of change — people are now working out with each other over their phones, building home gyms or just adapting their workouts to their new, at-home environment. But that’s been hard on runners — running is one of those types of workouts that, unless you’ve got a treadmill at home, you kinda need the outside to do. 

Or do you? 

Running is simply, by definition, “a method of terrestrial locomotion […] characterized by an aerial phase in which all feet are above the ground.” Is there really any reason, then, that you can’t run in place at home?

The answer, naturally, is “kinda.” 

Here’s the good news: Running in place is, technically, exercise since, if you’re doing it correctly and for a long enough period of time, you’re moving and getting your heart rate going. That is, essentially, cardio — i.e., an aerobic exercise of low to high intensity — and as we all know from 30 minutes on a recumbent bike or the elliptical, that’s workin’ out, baby. In fact, studies have shown that running in place also can lower blood sugar levels, burn calories, improve circulation and jump start weight loss. So you’re definitely doing something.

That said, running in place isn’t even close to the same quality you’d get from actually, you know, running from point A to point B. According to Livestrong.com, you don’t burn nearly the same amount of calories (dubious measurement though they may be) running in place as you do running outside, by almost half. And that has to do with the fact that, by running in place, you’re eliminating a lot of the resistance — the way that adding weight to a barbell increases resistance — that running outside provides just by the nature of putting one foot in front of the other, pushing off the ground and propelling yourself forward.

Now, if you run for exercise but are stressed about the idea of running outside at a time when the CDC is telling us that coronavirus can be carried around on people’s shoes, again, you can run in place at home instead. Just make sure that you’re finding ways to add resistance, either by using something like ankle weights, or by going faster or raising your knees higher than you would normally when you’re running. That should counteract the low intensity of running in place versus outside.

Or, you know, buy a treadmill.