As fall and winter approach, some runners tend to choose the indoor comfort of treadmills over toughing out the weather. However, consistent treadmill running will ruin your stride.
First, the history of treadmills: They were designed for cardiac rehab patients to be able to move slowly in the close safety of monitors and medical personnel to monitor their progress. These patients could walk on the treadmill for distances but not move anywhere, allowing their ECG machine to stay in place and watch their progress.
Running vs. Walking: Running and walking are two different movements for two different purposes. Walking was designed to carry us for long distances sparing lots of energy in order to be efficient. When walking the lead foot grabs the ground, pulls the body forward, pushes out the back and the next foot repeats the process by grabbing the ground. Running was meant to take us less total distance but at a much faster pace. It does this by sparing impact on the bones and joints and loading the musculature as a shock absorber. Instead of the feet grabbing the ground and then pulling and pushing the body, it absorbs the downward force of a fall repeatedly. Running is a forward lean where the center of gravity moves in front of the foot and we fall forward; the leg absorbs the impact of the fall. If we are still leaning forward we repeat the process with the other foot.
“Putting a child on a treadmill should be considered abuse”
When walking becomes running: This process is known as jogging. Distance running is meant to be a slowed down sprint, not a sped up walk. Jogging is when the mechanics of walking are sped up to a “running” speed. This is not a safe movement because the musculature is not loaded enough to absorb impact.
No running on a treadmill: No matter how “fast” the belt is spinning on a treadmill, it is impossible to run. This is due to the forward lean necessary for a run. If we lean forward on a treadmill we run into the monitor. As such, we stay upright and move our legs to the timing of the belt known as jogging. These mechanics are nothing more than the mechanics of walking.
Training benefit of a treadmill: Your heart rate will rise because you are working to move your muscles and you need blood flow to increase energy supply. However, you will not improve your running significantly. Muscles and movements are only improved when done correctly; running on a treadmill correctly is a mechanical impossibility.
In summary, treadmills were designed for cardiac rehab patients to walk and increase heart rate safely. Running, and improving your running, is not possible. This winter, brave the weather to improve your running, but don’t expect a treadmill to help.