If you’re looking for a new exercise regimen this winter, why not seek a local track team or try track workouts to challenge yourself differently? Running track provides multiple benefits, including greater stamina and endurance, improved speed, a stronger cardiovascular system, weight management, stress reduction, teamwork, reduced bone and muscle loss, slower aging and increased longevity. Running not only boosts confidence but also can keep you humble and striving to improve, which builds character and fosters perseverance – qualities that are important in many aspects of life outside of fitness and sports.
Although some may think that running is simply running, the truth is that indoor track and field differs from outdoor track and field in more ways than simply the location of competition. While both sports consist of running events (sprints, middle-distance and long-distance), jumping and throwing (long jump, high jump, discus) and combined, or multi-events, such as the decathlon, indoor and outdoor formats have some individual distinctions as well. Many people participate in both indoor and outdoor to improve overall performance, thanks to ongoing conditioning, consistent cross training and more competition.
Consider the differences between indoor track versus outdoor track:
- Track size – Indoor track typically uses a 200-meter (or sometimes longer) surface with six lanes, while outdoor takes place on a 400-meter track with eight lanes. USA Track & Field rules stipulate that indoor tracks are completely enclosed. Also, many indoor tracks are banked at a 10-15-degree angle to help fight centrifugal force when negotiating turns, which is not part of the design of outdoor tracks. However, indoor tracks require more turns and corners, which can slow runners. For instance, in the 400, the men’s outdoor record is 43.18; indoors, it’s 44.57. In the 800, the women’s outdoor record is 1.53.28; indoors, it’s 1:55.82.
- Season – In the United States, the indoor track season is in the winter months, from November to March, and is helpful for preparing for the outdoor season, which runs in spring and summer, from March to July.
- Events – Due to space limitations, indoor track typically has 15 track events and five field competitions; whereas outdoor usually has 18 track events and eight field contests.
Outdoor track has 100-meter races, whereas indoor competes in 60-meter races. Indoor includes the weight throw, but this contest is not done outdoors. Indoor also has the heptathlon for men, and the pentathlon for women. The outdoor season adds the 4×100-meter relay, 10,000-meter run, 400-meter hurdles race, javelin throw, hammer throw, discus, 3,000-meter steeplechase, and the decathlon for men and heptathlon for women.
- Meets – Competitions in indoor and outdoor track have similar rules and are run basically the same way. Standards to qualify for indoor national competition are slightly lower than those for outdoor track and field nationals because athletes are still building their base and generally do not peak until the outdoor season.
- Training – Other than the location and amount of space, training for indoor and outdoor track is fairly similar, with workouts for speed, distance, endurance, sprints, stair running, plyometrics and strength work. During indoor conditioning sessions, athletes may cross-train to limit chronic impact, choosing to use ellipticals, bicycles or the new Zero Runner® from Octane Fitness.
- Pros/Cons – Because indoor track is climate-controlled, athletes don’t have to contend with wind, heat, cold, rain and other weather extremes that can be distracting and impact their times. However, being outside offers more open space, scenery and fresh air, which can be invigorating, and tailwinds outdoors can help improve performance. As for which is better – indoor track versus outdoor track – that is really a personal preference.
Stay fueled and join a local track team or track club!