How to fine-tune your treadmill running

Do you love it or hate it? Read the lowdown on the training tool that every runner has an opinion about.

Winter is the toughest time of year for runners, whether you’re training for a race or jogging for fun and exercise. Lots of people escape the cold weather by heading to a gym and completing workouts on a treadmill instead. It’s also a useful training tool if you’re recovering from an injury, because the slightly softer surface of a treadmill belt is more forgiving. There are a lot of myths floating around about running on a treadmill and how it’s different from running outdoors. So to settle the score, here’s the truth about treadmill running.

When to choose the treadmill

Lots of people enjoy running on a treadmill, and may even prefer it to going for a run outside. However, even if you’re not such a fan there are some occasions when a treadmill workout makes the most sense.

1. It’s cold outside

Even if you have good cold weather running kit, heading out in the wind, rain or even snow can be pretty unpleasant. Although you generate lots of heat when you run, you also generate a chilly headwind for yourself by cutting through the air . You should be especially careful if you have health conditions such as asthma which can be aggravated by exercising in the cold. Unless you’re a very experienced runner, it’s sensible to swap your run for a treadmill session if the temperature dips below freezing. 

2. The ground is icy

Ice and snow on the ground are a serious slip hazard and can make it downright dangerous to run outside. If you live in an urban area, then the paths are likely to be salted and gritted reasonably well. However, if you’re unsure about whether it’s safe to run or you feel nervous about slipping then it’s safest to head indoors. The risk of hurting yourself is just not worth it, especially if you’re particularly susceptible to injury or you’ve got a race coming up.

3. It’s an important workout

If you’ve got a key training session scheduled in which you need to hit a specific pace or replicate a race course, running on a treadmill might give you the edge. The treadmill gives you total control over variables such as the gradient and pace. Running on a treadmill can also be the best way to practice eating or drinking on a long run, because you don’t need to carry them with you.

Optimise your treadmill workouts

1. Set the gradient to 1%

Research suggests that running on a treadmill is slightly easier3, and uses slightly less energy than running outside. This is because you remain still while the belt moves under you, so you don’t encounter any air resistance. Your hamstrings also get an easier ride because there is less need to push off and stride forward. Luckily, you can accurately simulate the feeling of outdoor running by setting the grade to 1%.

2. Listen to music/audiobooks/podcasts

Getting through a treadmill workout can be boring, without the changing scenery to look at or fellow runners to chat with or secretly compete against! Combat the boredom by listening to a playlist of upbeat, fast tempo music. Research shows runners perform better when listening to music, and it can be a serious mood booster. For longer runs, getting into a good story or listening to an addictive podcast can make the time pass quicker – and motivate you to come back for more.

3. Mix it up

You can add ‘hill sprints’ or ‘surges’ to your run by varying the incline or speed. Not only will this help to keep you motivated, but it’s also an important safety tip. Runners are at high risk of repetitive strain injury as their feet hit the ground/belt in an identical way stride after stride. Changing the pace or gradient every so often is one way to help reduce your risk of joint or ligament damage2.

The bottom line

Even though there are lots of ways to make sure you get the best possible workout when using a treadmill, it’s not a substitute for running outside. There is research to suggest that exercising outside is best for your mental health2, and also helps make sure your skin gets enough vitamin D. If you’re training for a race, it’s particularly important that you get used to running outdoors – you don’t want your first experience of road running to be on race day. Running is a fantastic way to boost your overall health – so the best thing you can do is find a way to run that you enjoy.



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