running on the treadmill
Key Benefits of Running on the Treadmill
We all know the key benefits of running on the treadmill, so lets get them out of the way early:
- Can run regardless of the outdoor conditions (rain and cold)
- Can run when it is dark outside
- Offers a safe training environment
- But what about from a training and performance aspect, is treadmill running an adequate substitute for hitting the trails or the paths?
All good treadmills have sprung platforms meaning the impact stress on the body is reduced. This is definitely a positive as it reduces the risk of injury associated with treadmill sessions. 1-0 for the treadmill.
Speed work on the Treadmill
The treadmill is great for top end speed work. You can really get some good speed sessions on the treadmill if you are after neuromuscular adaptations. Set the grade to 0% and with no wind resistance you are ready to fly. Couple this with the motivation of having to keep up with the treadmill belt and your ability to recover well after treadmill sessions, and the treadmill becomes a popular form of speed work for even elite runners. 2-0 for the treadmill.
But the benefit of the 0% grade for speed work can also be a negative. Many runners set the grade to 0% but forget that without the wind resistance we get when running outdoors, the intensity at the same speed is reduced. The general rule of thumb is that you set the treadmill to 1% to account for the wind resistance. However this in turn means you actually change your technique and get higher knee lift to run up that slight incline. I would say this is back to 2-1 for the treadmill.
When you are outdoors you are thinking about your pace and adjusting it based on how you feel but on the treadmill you lose this need to listen to your body and understand pacing. Now this is a big negative when it comes to racing as you have to control the pace and without that digital board in front of you, it can be difficult to get the pacing right. There is no doubt that if want to run well, you have to be outside doing regular intervals sessions in order to get the most out of runs. 2 all.
However, the set speed on the treadmill can also offer some motivational benefits. If you are doing efforts on the treadmill and you have been running them at 15km/hr (4min/km) and you are on your last effort and starting to feel it, you are motivated to push through and maintain the same speed. When you are outside, it can sometimes be easy to unknowingly slow the pace a little in these situations. Treadmill back in front at 3-2.
Hill Work on a Treadmill
You can definitely do hill work on the treadmill but it is all very structured. When you are outdoors you are continually going up and down short hills while also encountering longer climbs at various grades. However on the treadmill the grade does not continually fluctuate like this; it is much more steady state as you run at the same speed and grade for extended periods. While it is difficult to accurately account for the benefit of these undulations, research using both runners and cyclists has shown that intermittent activity and hills are beneficial to performance. Back to 3 all.
Running Technique on Treadmill
Now for the big one. Is your TECHNIQUE different on the treadmill? While there isn’t a lot of research in the area, it (1, 2) indicates that your technique on the treadmill does vary. The moving belt of the treadmill brings the supporting leg back under the body quicker and joint angles vary. Additionally, substantial but inconsistent differences exist showing that the treadmill running technique varies significantly to overground running technique but the exact differences vary between individual runners. Now this last point is the major concern for me. If you do a large volume of your work on the treadmill, you are actually using a different technique to what you would use in a race.
So to summarise, we could say that the treadmill offers various benefits to outdoor running and definitely allows you to increase your fitness, but if your goal is to get faster and perform in races, then the treadmill should be used sparingly. There is no doubt that treadmill running is better than no running, so use it when you have to such as when the weather or darkness prevents you running outdoors; additionally it can offer some benefits for top end speed sessions, but ultimately treadmill running should make up only a small portion of your overall running volume if your goal is performance.