Treadmill Running
Treadmill Running

By Julia Howard, MPH, RHN, Run Coach

Have I ever told you how much I dislike the treadmill? Not ideal for a resident of windswept Newfoundland. But, now it’s treadmill season and, here we are. 

Part of the reason why I run is because I get to lose myself in the beauty of a trail, the conversation with a run partner, the fluidity of an oval track, or the laser focus and challenge of racing.

With a treadmill, there is none of that. Even as a treadmill owner, I will sometimes go to another gym just to have the sights and sounds of other humans around me. 

Although not a perfect substitute for running outside, the treadmill is a great tool when used appropriately.

(Note: This post considers only motorized treadmills, not self-powered treadmills such as the Assault AirRunner or the Woodway Curve).

Just Me, Myself, and My Excessively Tight Hips

The good thing is, with such focus on yourself, the treadmill can sometimes help let you know if your body is feeling okay. If your hips are too tight or something is out of whack, it’s much harder to ignore it, which many runners tend to do.

Some research has found that treadmill running limits your range of motion compared to “overground running” which may impact your running form. This finding may be related to the familiarity of the runner with treadmill running or the stiffness of the treadmill platform .

Have you ever noticed yourself running up onto the front of the treadmill? Running too close to the front of the treadmill will limit your stride length and decrease your efficiency.

In addition, research on treadmill running vs. overground running suggests that you should also set your incline to at least a 1 % grade during easy running and, as your pace gets faster, a 2 % is likely more appropriate, especially for lactate threshold work. This adjustment helps counteract the lack of air resistance on a treadmill and better simulates the feeling of running outside.

Interestingly, coach and exercise physiologist, Dr. Jack Daniels has found that it costs about 7% more energy to run outside on flat ground compared to running at the same speed on a treadmill. (Under calm conditions).

Treadmill platform stiffness is also a consideration. One possible bright side of treadmill running is that some treadmills have lower impact surfaces than roads which can provide some relief from the usual pounding on your body.

On the other hand, the stiffer the treadmill platform, the more closely the treadmill will compare to typical concrete / road running conditions. This extra platform stiffness also comes at a higher “metabolic cost” or energy required compared to a less stiff platform so, a stiffer platform can result in a higher rate of oxygen consumption and heart rate.

You can avoid ice face with treadmill training!

Physical Strategies for the Treadmill

If I start my run on a treadmill and feel particularly resistant to doing the run that day, I go through my list of what’s going on in my body. After my warmup, I take the time to do my “pre-hab” that will help me properly prepare for the rest of the run or interval session. This includes exercises like:

  • glute bridges
  • scapular pushups
  • mountain climbers
  • hurdle drills
  • foam rolling mid/upper back
  • ankle mobility work
  • dynamic drills (e.g., high knees, leg swings, ankle bounding)

Once I feel physically ready, then there’s still the mental part… Actually getting it done.

Treadmill boredom? Try a few mental strategies.

Mental Strategies for the Treadmill

Here are a few strategies I use to get through my runs and workouts on the treadmill:

  1. Set the tone: Warmup with your favourite songs (i.e., Maggie Rogers’ “Burning” and Jain’s “Makeba”).
  2. If you have the option, open a window to let the “outside smells in”. The smell of nature can have a calming effect.
  3. Set some initial short-term goals, if needed. For example, promise yourself that you can step off after 15 to 20 minutes for stretching / drills / dance break (aka, the running man) and maybe even again after the next 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Try wearing a lighter shoe. Your rate of perceived exertion during easy running on a treadmill may be higher compared to running outdoors, despite the extra help a treadmill provides.
  5. For threshold workouts, find an upbeat playlist that you’ve never heard before, like Spotify’s “Run N’ Bass” playlist. I think of this as discovery in sound versus discovery on a new trail or road route.
  6. For easy runs, find a podcast, audiobook, or a movie. Inspirational YouTube talks can work! Put subtitles on so you can read over the sound of the treadmill motor.
  7. Schedule a side by side treadmill run with a friend! It’s amazing how the time can fly with conversation and shared “suffering”.
  8. Put a towel or a shirt over the data screen to cover up the time.
  9. During steady runs, mix up the incline setting every couple of minutes and focus on form.
  10. If that doesn’t work (I must be having a rough day!), I crank up the speed and get the run done faster. Not always recommended! Easy runs should be easy!

“Mood Follows Action” -Rich Roll

Whatever you feel like on treadmill day, remind yourself of the quote from ultramarathoner, Rich Roll: “Mood Follows Action”. Try to accept that you may never “feel like” running on the treadmill at first but, you’ll feel damn good when you’re done!

(If you need proof, check out this fact sheet from the Canadian Psychological Association about the physical, psychological, and neurological benefits of physical activity.)

Hope that helps! Happy Treadmilling.

Thanks for reading,

~Julia

If you’re interested in run coaching to help you set that PB, get in touch!

Julia Howard of JKConditioning

Sources

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30847825-a-systematic-review-and-meta-analysis-of-crossover-studies-comparing-physiological-perceptual-and-performance-measures-between-treadmill-and-overground-running/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31802395-is-motorized-treadmill-running-biomechanically-comparable-to-overground-running-a-systematic-review-and-meta-analysis-of-cross-over-studies/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24245052-three-dimensional-kinematic-comparison-of-treadmill-and-overground-running/

https://news.vdoto2.com/2019/12/treadmill-training-to-prepare-for-boston/?fbclid=IwAR0B1V6l2QZNprRL8g-zAHpaJ0PdyOzt5ekL57yygtwTDO5tWyzAL3hQIuY

I originally joined JKC because I was anxious about passing out and embarrassing myself since I hadn’t weight trained in a while and I’d hoped to find somewhere sympathetic. My husband @terry_hussey had been training at JKC and his success there made me miss the achievement you feel from a good workout. I went to meet Jon and immediately knew it was going to be a safe space for me. I was never judged for the fears I had and where I was starting from. Jon and Thomas made sure to check on me often, and found a way to challenge me but make me feel secure at the same time, and Terry and I were able to book sessions together, so working out became a shared win for us!

JKC is different from other gyms because of the personal growth you have outside JKC (the sessions inside JKC creates a great positive feedback loop!). You gain self confidence, learn how to show up for yourself, meet a community of newfound friends, and get the support of your trainers who are behind you 100%. I’ve left a scattered workout so proud of myself I’ve honestly shed a tear in the car on the drive home. JKC is the mental health relief valve I need to stay positive, and keep my anxiety and health related fears at bay.

I heard really good things about it from my sister, and I could see the positive results she was getting.  I needed to do something.  I was overweight, depressed, and recovering from a back injury.  I had reached a point where simply getting up out of a chair was becoming difficult.  I knew that if I didn’t do something about it my senior years would be very burdensome to the people close to me.  I’m so glad I did!  After just a few weeks my day-to-day pain was drastically reduced, and my mobility increased. I had the confidence to try sea kayaking, and I now play ice hockey twice a week!

The key difference is the expertise.  The trainers know the gym equipment and the exercises, but they also have degrees in kinesiology, and can apply what they know to your workout.  As someone who was in poor physical condition starting out, I was worried about hurting myself.  Previously I tried an outdoor weekly bootcamp and injured my knee by pushing too hard.  The trainers at JKC constructed a program that started at the right level for me, evolving it as I grew stronger and more fit.  I feel well looked after.

The people and the training set JKC apart from other gyms or programs I’ve tried in the past. Truly Jon and Thomas meet you where are and help you get to where you want to be. There are no expectations and never any judgement. You can go there having the worst day and you always leave feeling better. Truly JKC has given me a level of strength and confidence I would not have had otherwise ❤️.

I had virtually no real experience using weights and felt intimidated going gyms. I avoided gym-goers using free weights, especially when hearing that loud crash, as they would drop weights to the floor. I thought this was to show everyone around them that they owned that area and that I shouldn’t go anywhere near! So I guess I just wanted to learn how to lift weights safely in a gym environment.

I spent over 18 years in the British Military, so I got to use some nice gyms. 99% of my time and experiences in those gyms was spent doing cardiovascular workouts, because I could just jump on a treadmill, plug in my head phones and do my own thing! JKC is different, because they have given me the confidence to use free weights and equipment that I had feared for years. Their demonstrations and knowledge is impeccable and I thank them for their continuous belief and support they show me at every session.

I chose JKC because I was looking for something different. I’ve seen and done the trendy workout programs before, I was looking for something that I knew I could see myself still doing a year from now! JKC has a lot of clients that have been going for years. That was a huge motivator for me! The small group coaching sessions are great and I really enjoy the format. It’s nice having 2-4 people working-out with you during your session. The camaraderie is great, everyone is very upbeat and positive – zero gym judgment!

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