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

My original reason for joining JKC was to get some sage advice to help with my running. I had been looking for awhile, came across Jon, met for an assessment, and was quite happy with how that all went. Apart from the running specific strengthening and conditioning approaches, JKC is different from other gyms as I am a fan of the small group sessions where everyone has their own goals and individualized programs. As well, the run coaching is super. All the coaches go the extra mile to make sure you get the best out each training session. They are fantastic motivators! My favourite memory is deadlifting 330lbs. Making a lot of great friends and meeting some really cool people is pretty high up on that list, too.

I started at JKC in January of 2014 and I’m 67 years old. When I had my Initial Assessment, I knew – almost immediately – that Jon knew what he was doing and what he was talking about. I was overweight, out of shape, and in serious need of someone, like Jon, who could get me back on a fitness/conditioning routine that suited me, my age, my less than acceptable physical condition, my sometimes intermittent RA, and my need for a structured, consistent and yet flexible training and conditioning program that would work for me.

Fundamentally, if I made a choice at all with respect to JKC – it was to continue to come back each week. I have not been in a lot of gyms. To be honest, they used to intimidate me. What makes JKC different is their approach to each and every one of their clients. Jon and Thomas – and now Craig – tailor each training regime to the particular needs of each client. That ensures that the training regime will suit each client upon the start of training and changes as the client improves. It adjusts for any physical setbacks such as injuries and it adjusts for success. It is just that simple.

It is also the consistent encouragement that comes from Jon, Thomas and Craig. That voice that comes to you while you are in the middle of a particularly difficult set – rear-foot elevated split squats comes to mind immediately – that says “good job” or “keep it up” or “just a couple more reps.” To know, in that moment, that you are not alone and the trainer is paying attention to what you are doing. That is priceless for me.

I recently visited Newfoundland for one month, and was looking for a good place to train while I was there. Jon and the team at JK conditioning really took the time to assess what I already knew, and set achievable goals for the time that I had with them. The gym was such a great place to push yourself. It had everything you needed, but more importantly it had a well organized, very knowledgeable, and really motivating group of trainers to push you at each workout. Not to mention a really nice group of other members who also motivated me to go that little bit further. I would highly recommend the gym to anyone who has a goal and wants to find a place to help them achieve it.

I am the oldest client at JKC at 79 years, soon to be 80. I started training at JKC July 2021. I started at JKC because two of my three sons Justin and Michael and their partners Andrea and Keir and one of my doctors recommended JKC. They all train at JKC Now my wife Linda trains at JKC too. My third son Jonathan lives in Kingston. There is a congenial community atmosphere at JKC. People are introduced to each other. There is effective personal training at JKC.

trap bar deadlift

A few of my wonderful friends and colleagues recommended JKC. I was told by one colleague that “It’ll be the best thing you ever do for yourself” and she was right! To be honest, I didn’t have much experience in any gym setting. And NO prior weight training experience. It was always so overwhelming! But from the first day, nothing was intimidating about JKC. Each workout is set up just for me, and with my specific skills and goals in mind. There are no stupid questions, you learn as you go, and what I really love, I always feel included and important, regardless of my skills/experience.

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