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 saw an article in Men’s Journal that quoted Jon in about 2018 while traveling and was impressed that someone in St. John’s made that international magazine.  Jon spoke about an exercise called the Farmer’s Walk and I started working that into my routine at the YMCA. I tore that article out of the magazine and kept it, meaning to make contact, but got busy. Then I had lunch with an old friend Bruce Dyke. I hadn’t seen Bruce for a while and I remarked that he looked super healthy and fit. He told me about his, and his son Cas’, experience at JKC and then I remembered the Men’s Journal article! No coincidences!

The experience is unique on many levels – great people, camaraderie, passion, purpose, and dedication. Jon and Thomas are attentive, precise and understanding.  Their teaching has unlocked a new perspective for me with what our bodies are capable of. I still appreciate the YMCA, wonderful place, but I can’t imagine working out without Jon and Thomas now.

JKC is different from other gyms/fitness regimes I have tried in the past because of my level of comfort with the facility and other JKC clients and the amount of knowledge both Jon and Thomas demonstrate through personal attention to form, core development and overall strength is outstanding. JKC is by far the best training hands on attention that I’ve experienced period and I have experienced many over a lifetime of activity and playing various sports. The facility has everything you require plus, as you will learn there are many ways to use every piece of equipment and Jon and Thomas are very creative! There are many age groups and professions who attend this gym from elite athlete’s to the rest of us and the casual but focused atmosphere in the gym makes each visit interesting, friendly and challenging at all levels.

sumo deadlift

I had always wanted to start lifting weights and get stronger, but didn’t know where to start. I was looking not just for a gym, but for training on proper technique to prevent injury and a program designed for my specific goals. I also wanted a fun and supportive atmosphere to keep me coming back. JKC delivered on all of this and more.

Jon and Thomas have a wealth of knowledge that help their clients get the most out of their time in the gym. Programs are continuously modified to keep the workouts challenging. Even through everyone’s program is unique, you always have the coaches and other clients cheering you on and pushing you to achieve new bests.

I’m 34 and started at JKC in 2015. My wife joined while I was working away in 2015 and started making amazing progress while also completing exercises I’d never perform on my own. I felt I was missing out so I signed up. JKC helps in establishing goals while also having clear direction of what to do, and how, in each session. They also measure your progress which is another means of motivation! At other gyms I wouldn’t have a clear plan and would just use whatever equipment was free, it was hard to see any results. Between setting some personal bests and making good friends its hard to identify a favorite memory.  One that does come to mind was when I hit my target goal/PB in both bench and squats in the same session, big day.

Tara Rector-Whelan

Personal Strength Training by Thomas King

I started at JKC after a good friend recommended it to me. She had been coming for about a year and I was envious of her great results. I felt sluggish after failing to motivate myself with various home workout routines. I love the fun and relaxed atmosphere at JKC. It’s such a comfortable gym space and I enjoy knowing so many of the people I work out with. Jon and Thomas make an effort to introduce everyone to each other and with all the joking around,  it starts to feel like a family. Not to mention the awesome results. I’ve always liked to run on a treadmill but I’ve never had the drive to lift weights on my own. Going to JKC makes me accountable which was what I really needed. I feel so much stronger and healthier than I did 4 years ago when I started.

As Seen On: