Hitting the gym -- with its exercise machines, weight equipment and group fitness classes -- might seem like a drudge when compared to the freedom of running on the open road, but it does offer a few benefits you can't get from running alone. Ultimately, choosing between the two comes down to a matter of getting your fitness priorities in order.
Freedom and Flexible Access
When it comes to freedom and flexible access, running outside beats the gym hands-down. You can go running just about anywhere, at any time, without wondering whether your gym is open or if there might be a long line for your favorite cardio machine. And you can enjoy all the fresh air you want.
When you go to the gym, you're giving up the travel time to get there, plus the monthly dues you pay -- and heaven forbid you forget to pack a change of clothes in your gym bag. If you go running, on the other hand, all you have to do is lace up your shoes, step outside your door and hit your stride.
Avoiding Overuse Injuries
If you're smart about your running training -- using proper technique, taking at least one day off a week to rest, varying your runs and always warming up beforehand -- you shouldn't incur any overuse injuries. But avoiding the injuries that come from doing the same exercise day in, day out is even easier in the gym, where you have ready access to a wide variety of exercise equipment.
Running and Intimidation
Both running and going to the gym are intimidating in their own ways. When you run outdoors, you're exercising in the public eye, but at least you usually aren't expected to interact with anybody. The sheer effort of running can be intimidating, too, if you've never done it before -- but rest assured that even if you have to start out at a walk, you can work your way up to jogging and running in short order.
The gym packs its own sort of intimidation, like exercising in close proximity to others, braving the locker room and not always knowing how to handle new equipment. But you can overcome those factors, too. Just ask the gym staff for help with any equipment you don't understand, use family locker rooms if you don't like changing in public and put on headphones to ward off unwelcome conversation.
A Well-Rounded Workout Program
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that healthy adults should get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week, or 75 minutes of intense activity. You can do that by running or by using any of the cardio machines in the gym. The CDC also recommend strength training your major muscle groups twice a week -- something running can't do for you. So if you really want to toe the line in terms of fitness, you're going to have to hit the gym or at least do some strength training at home.