Whats the difference?

One question I typically hear from my patients who are either keen runners already or who are just getting into it: 

“Is treadmill running as good as running outdoors”?

Many factors can influence a person’s preference towards the treadmill or outdoor running. There are many who love the fresh air and space that running gives them. Whereas others may enjoy watching a bit of TV while they run! 

The environment and area we live in can also influence our decisions. 

However for those who have access to, and enjoy both, there are some facts about treadmill running I hope you can find useful!!

The positives:

1.    The belt on a treadmill ‘gives’ a little as you run. This means it can be more forgiving on our load bearing joints: the knees, hips, ankles and lower back.

2.    It is good for speed training – you can accurately track the increase/decrease of both the speed and incline.

3.    It can stimulate a race environment: treadmills offer a variety of settings. This means you can set a speed/incline or intervals to fit into the type of race you’re training for. It also has options for heart rate, fat burning or hill training.

4.    If kept on a 0 incline, it is considered easier than outdoor running. Therefore, it can be good for those who are new to running.

         *Note: a 10-minute mile on a treadmill is usually equivalent to around a 10.43 mile of ‘outdoor’ running*.

5.    Your do not have any additional challenging factors such as; wind resistance and changing direction.

6.    It can be good for times that it may not be safe to run outdoors e.g. after dark/in the winter.

7.    You do not have to worry about planning a route/distance or needing a GPS tracking device to see your mile/km splits. Again, this can be useful for those new to running.

8.  It can help you to work on your cadence (the number of steps taken per minute). The ‘average’ is thought to be 180 (90 on one leg). Increasing cadence means increasing speed. On a treadmill, this will feel easier than outdoors. This makes it a good place to practice what your ideal number is and work on improving it (if speed is one of your goals!).

The negatives:

1.    The propulsion of the belt means that you get some help when ‘pushing off’ during running. This means there is less activation of the Hamstrings and Gluteal muscles. This puts extra work on the Quadriceps to complete the gait cycle. If you are using a treadmill, make sure you are mixing it up with some strengthening and conditioning work for the posterior chain muscles (gluteals, hamstrings and calves). Some examples of these will be covered in our next blog post. Watch this space!!

2.    It can be boring! Top tips would be to have a good playlist or podcast to listen to.

3.    Sticking to a 0.0. incline does not match the challenges of outdoor running. It has been shown that increasing the incline to 1.0 can help to mimic the feeling of running outdoors.

        *Note: A 10 minute mile on a treadmill at an incline of 1.0 is equivalent to approx. a 10.13 mile and a 2.0 incline approx. a 9.43 mile*.

4.    The belt does not offer any challenges to your balance, agility and co-ordination. When you run outdoors, you are constantly adjusting to changes in terrain, avoiding pedestrians, hopping on/off curbs etc. This can be good for maintain stability in the knees and ankles. Treadmill running will not offer this.

In conclusion: If you are training for an outdoor race the treadmill can provide a safe environment to work on speed, cadence and generally ‘getting the miles in’. However, it should not be a substitute for outdoor running. It is crucial to get experience of running in different weather conditions, on different terrains and without any help from the belt!

If you just want to keep fit and running is something you enjoy – the treadmill is a great option. Just be sure to do some strengthening for those muscles that get a little neglected!

Thanks for reading. 


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