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Treadmill Running- Stefan Timms

Treadmill Running

Considering the winter we are having I thought it appropriate to post an article I previously wrote on treadmill running.  In case Jasper’s “Crap its Cold” article doesn’t inspire maybe this will.
There has been an overabundance of “amazing and astounding” pieces of exercise equipment promoted to consumers in recent years that sell dreams of an easy way to turn your body into a toned, athletic machine. Many of these breakthrough inventions have sold millions of copies to people desperate for a quick fix and then disappeared. However, there is one piece of exercise equipment that has stood the test of time, and continues to be a fixture at gyms and in homes around the world…the treadmill.
Today’s treadmills may have a lot more bells and whistles than past versions, but their premise remains the same: indoor running on the spot. Treadmills have been so successful because they work. Running is the best exercise you can do in terms of calorie burning and building fitness, and no other piece of cardio equipment is as efficient at calorie burning, because no other piece requires full weight bearing like the treadmill.
The same basic training principles apply to all workouts, whether they are done outdoors on the road/trails or inside on equipment, and the treadmill can be quite useful in specific instances. Treadmills allow you to jog, run, sprint, climb hills, or even resistance train by easily and accurately varying grade and speed. Many top triathletes and runners use treadmills as a regular part of their training as they have several advantages traditional methods of cardiovascular exercise.
Treadmill Advantages


The main advantage of treadmills is of course that they are used indoors in a controlled environment. This means they are not affected by weather, traffic lights, or safety concerns. When you get on a treadmill you know the temperature, you don’t have to stop for anything, and you don’t have to worry about where you are going. Obviously this aspect of treadmills will appeal to people who live in places with extreme climates (cold or hot), big cities, or unsafe neighbourhoods. This is also important though when travelling, as a treadmill provides you with the ability to get your workout done without worrying about these factors in an unknown place.
A second advantage of treadmills is that they are more forgiving then the road as they absorb shock better and are less likely to cause impact injuries then running on the road. This will help you to run as efficiently as possible, and can be a great help to someone coming back from any injury.
A third benefit of running on a treadmill is being able to program an exact speed that you want to maintain. This is ideal for training at a certain pace for intervals or the entire workout to ensure you are achieving your desired result. This can also be very useful if you are preparing for a specific event, as many treadmills allow you to program an exact course. For example, top triathletes such as Greg Bennett and Simon Whitfield regularly use a treadmill to simulate specific courses they will compete on later in the season. Often they even take this to another step by doing these workouts surrounded by portable heaters-if the race they are training for is held in a hot climate. This is a great motivator as well as a very specific training adaptation to prepare their bodies as best as possible for race day.
Another benefit of treadmill running is the ability it allows you to work on correcting your running form. Most gyms usually have mirrors around in which you can see yourself on the treadmill, so taking note of what you do, and trying to improve on one aspect of your technique each session is a great way to help pass the time during your easier runs.
A final benefit to using a treadmill is that you can build a lot of mental toughness since there are not many distractions like there are on the road or trail. You have to focus on your workout, your pace, and your technique. Although it may be boring to some, for others this is just what they need to get that hard session done.
However, treadmill running is not for everyone. Like any training technique the treadmill also has its negative aspects.
Treadmill Disadvantages


There are four main problems associated with treadmill running: biomechanical changes, inaccurate readings, heat, and boredom.
Treadmill running is great when you cannot run outdoors, but you should not use it as your sole venue for running as you may find the transition to road running somewhat uncomfortable. This occurs because of several biomechanical differences that occur when you run on a treadmill vs. the road:
When you run on the road, you must exert more energy in your running to overcome the braking forces than on a treadmill.

You have to face air resistance outside which forces you to work harder to run the same speed.

Your stride length is shorter outside because the ground doesn’t move under your feet the way the tread does.

Your feet are always on a smooth, flat surface on a treadmill so that your neuromuscular system does not get any work on proprioception the way it would on a road or trail.
All of these factors mean that you will fatigue sooner and be more susceptible to injury if you mainly run on a treadmill and then try to transition to outside.
A second problem with treadmills is that they are notoriously inaccurate. Treadmills are usually calibrated when they are first built up but then as they are used, wear and tear knocks off the calibration. As a result, it can be hard to determine how far you actually have run, or the exact speed you are running at. This can be a big detriment if you are using the treadmill for a specific workout.
Thirdly, many treadmill users complain that they get extremely hot when working out. This occurs because of the lack of air resistance that helps in cooling you off when outside. The easiest way to combat this problem is with a properly placed fan, but if that is not possible you may find yourself sweating more than normal. Ensure that you are staying hydrated if this is the case, as you will quickly lose electrolytes in your sweat, causing fatigue and dehydration.
The most common criticism about treadmills is that runners find them boring. Running in one spot with no change in scenery is not particularly stimulating. Although it may help build mental fortitude, it can also cause people to shorten sessions or avoid treadmills altogether. If you do get bored on treadmills, but you want to continue using them as a fitness tool, then you need to spice up your workouts a bit. There are now several great books on the market that have a variety of treadmill specific workouts that will keep things fresh and interesting, or you can use the guidelines below to design your own.
Treadmill Workouts

The best way to combat boredom and maximize the benefits on the treadmill are to only use them for specific workouts. I do not recommend that athletes use the treadmill for regular easy runs of 20-40 minutes, unless they have to because of certain circumstances (injury, weather, they are away at a race, etc). I prefer they use the treadmill for one of the following sessions:
· Fartlek is a great idea for indoor workouts as it really helps break up the monotony and helps get the person’s mind off the fact that they aren’t actually moving anywhere. I use a couple versions of the indoor fartlek: “commercial” and “song” that has the athlete go hard during a song or commercial (after a proper warm-up), and then easy during the next song or during the show. “Commercial” is used for long workouts that are mainly aerobic with the small number of short intervals included to work their other system. The “song” version, which is used most often, involves increasing speed and/or grade during the harder parts.

· Tempo runs, which simulate a specific course, are usually what my athletes use the treadmill for. After a 15 minute warm-up, you would then run 20-30 minutes at your race pace over the pre set course, and finally finish with 10 minutes easy cool-down.

· Hill workouts are especially great for people who don’t live in a hilly area and want the benefits of hill running. Treadhills are a series of short, hard efforts up a 5-10% grade. After the warm-up, you would do a set of 3-10 x 1-3 minutes up the hill at a challenging pace, with 1-2 minutes rest between each hill repeat. This can be done by presetting the treadmill or by manually adjusting it at the start of each hill.

· Interval sessions normally done on the track can also be run on a treadmill. After warming up, a set of a specific distance or time, such as 2:30 (an 800), is done at a fast pace, with adequate rest between intervals. They only problem with this is that the rest is still running unless you choose to hop off the treadmill between intervals. Also remember that most treadmills max out at 10-12 mph, so short, fast repeats are hard to simulate, and should be left to a track.
Treadmills are great when you cannot run outdoors or when you have a specific workout that it is best suited for, but you should not become dependant on them. Use them for the advantages they provide, but try to limit your use of treadmills to when they are necessary, and get outside the rest of the time. The outdoor environment provides not only a more pleasant and invigorating atmosphere, but it will keep you more biomechanically correct. So enjoy those treadmill runs, but don’t forget about that park around the corner from your house.

Treadmill Tips


· Run on a grade. Treadmill running is slightly easier than outdoor running due to the lack of wind resistance. This enables you to be more efficient in your running on the treadmill, so to accommodate for the lack of resistance set the treadmill at a 1% grade for all of your workouts.
· Use a heart rate monitor. By using one you can eliminate “junk training” and get fitter faster. The monitor allows you to maximize your efforts at the gym by guiding your intensity so that you work out in the zone that you want to be in, helping you get results faster. A heart rate monitor also allows you to work out in zones that are safe for you and helps reduce your risk of injury or overtraining, as well as preventing boredom from doing the same thing every day.
· Bring a waterbottle. Be sure to hydrate lots while working out on a treadmill. You can lose even more water running on a treadmill then you would if you were running outside. This is because of the lack of air resistance to help to keep you cool. Just a 1% loss in water can lead to a noticeable decline in performance.
· Use the mirrors. If you have a mirror nearby try to check your form during several parts of the workout. Do you start to hunch over or tighten up, as you get tired? A mirror can help to point out to you how to improve your training.