Friday, July 30, 2010

Treadmill Running

I get a lot of questions about treadmill running. Let me start by saying that I don't like treadmill running. In my opinion, running was meant to be an outdoor activity. However, there are a significant number of people who do most, or maybe even all, of their training on treadmills. I even know someone who did almost all of his training for a Marathon on one of these devices. Personally, I'd rather give up running than train for a Marathon on a treadmill.

Putting my personal prejudices aside, I do live in New England, so I can understand that there can be some very practical reasons to train on a treadmill. Icy streets and extreme weather conditions can make running outside difficult. I also realize that not everyone lives in a safe neighborhood, and running inside on a treadmill may be a safe alternative to running outside.

Technical Differences 

Running on a treadmill is easier than running on the ground. To make up for this difference, set the treadmill  on 1 to 3 percent grade to approximate running on level ground. Also, on a treadmill, the ground is pulled out from under you, and this will affect your technique slightly, but more importantly it will likely affect how running feels, and your perceptions of how you are moving. You can get more detail on this subject in the articles below.

Treadmill Running Pros
  • You can avoid unsafe running conditions outside.
  • It may be more convenient, if you are integrating your run into a larger workout,
Treadmill Running Cons
  • It is difficult do any speed work. Most treadmills only go up to 10 miles per hour, so workouts that require sprinting are impossible.
  • Running inside prevents the runner from adapting to climate and the weather. Runners don't just have to adapt physiologically to the effort of running, they must also be able to adapt physiologically to the climate and weather. One cannot expect to show up for a race and have the conditions like those of an air conditioned gym. If all you have only run in a climate controlled facility, than you will have trouble adapting to less than ideal weather conditions.
  • Running outside can be full of a lot of little, and not so little, obstacles. If you run outside, you learn to deal with these obstacle without a second thought. However, if you always run on treadmill, you may find yourself tripping over little changes in the running surface.
  • Running on a treadmill is mind numbingly boring. 
My Advice on Treadmill Training
  • Only run on a treadmill if you can't run outside safely.
  • Plan to do shorter workouts on treadmills to save your sanity. Time seems to pass extremely slowly on a treadmill, and boredom will set in quickly.
  • If 10 miles/hr is not challenging for you, then keep increasing the grade gradually.
  • It's impossible to practice downhill running on a treadmill, so plan to get in some downhill training on your runs outside.
  • Start slowly, and increase the speed gradually, making sure you can maintain your technique as the speed increases. If your technique start to fall apart, then reduce the the speed.


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