Last week I was part of a Facebook discussion with running friends and treadmills and long runs was the topic, the occurrence of injury from treadmill training was brought up so I started thinking about this as well as other aspects of that contraption we runners have a love hate relationship with. I have been known to run a few 20 milers on the treadmill during winter training due to blizzard conditions and lack of other run options. This is the toughest mental run but is a great way to get in marathon pace running. I also relied heavily on the treadmill for naptime workouts but would have taken outside over this any day.
We evolved as runners for our survival and immediate gratification, our minds don’t deal well with this lack of change and waiting months to reach a goal. While at the same time we often tune out during a treadmill run not paying attention to our body and rely on outside distractions. According the evolutionary psychology the key to better treadmill running is mindfulness, how is our breathing? foot strike? Arm tension? Runner’s World has a great article How to Make the Treadmill Fun
Although this doesn’t address the issue of injury just the mental side of treadmill running.
Have you ever actually through about how the treadmill works? Pushing your legs back and decreasing active motion leading to passive hip extension (Source). This decrease in active motion may be the reason Reynolds (2010) concluded that treadmills are not the answer to high speed training. With this said Taunton (2003) found no increase in treadmill injuries over runners outside. The unanswered question that many are wondering: are runner more susceptible to hamstring injury when transitioning from treadmills to outdoor running? There is no literature to support either side of this, but personally I wonder if my high amount of treadmill miles was a contributing factor in my hamstring issues over the past 2 years.
The other side of treadmill running is the lack of change, many runners set a speed and incline and go, tune out the world and run. We run in a straight line with no need to turn or change direction, how many outdoor runs are like this? We all see this at the gym that person hanging on with a death grip, never changing speed, incline and keeping this the same every run. The key to successful treadmill running is change, not only does this better simulate outdoor running but also keeps things mentally engaging. Play with speed and incline and remember that 1.0% incline is the best equivalent to outdoor running.
With all this said I think treadmills are a necessary part of running for most of us. There are days when we have no other options and a treadmill is the only answer. With our brutal winter it has gotten me through many runs and as a mom is sometimes the only answer. It is my goal to avoid long treadmill runs but if nothing else can be done I try to make it a marathon pace run instead of an easy run.
Grab a friend, be mindful of your body and hit the treadmill on a cold day. Challenge each other to and work together to have a great workout. Make it fun and take turns deciding the speed and incline changes to make.
How do you get through treadmill runs? Do you love or hate the treadmill?