My Treadmill Training Tips: Number 4 Will SHOCK You

Happy New Year! It’s time for New Year’s resolutions and updating my widely shared blog post on my treadmill training that I first wrote in 2014. Four years later, my New Year’s resolutions still involve running and I still faithfully run almost every single day. And because I don’t like running in the cold, the New Year always starts with running on a treadmill.

Our home treadmill that we bought in 1993 finally died after thousands of miles and a few major overhauls. So last year we bought a new treadmill but put it in the factory where I’ve been spending most of my time anyways since we got our latest National Science Foundation grant. We also joined Charlottesville’s new YMCA that’s just down the street from the factory.

As tantalizing as all those fancy elliptical, stair climbing, rowing, and stationary biking machines are, the treadmill remains the best piece of exercise equipment in terms of efficiency. Specifically, according to this seminal research study in 1996 that has never been refuted, the treadmill, compared to other forms of indoor exercise equipment (stationary bike, rowing machine Nordic Track, etc.), is the most efficient form of aerobic exercise for burning calories. That is, at the same level of perceived exertion, you burn more calories per minute on a treadmill than on any other type of indoor exercise equipment. This makes sense because walking and running are the most natural forms of movement we can do. And walking or running on a treadmill is not that much different from doing it over-ground – which makes the treadmill a great choice for both getting in shape and staying in shape.

Myths about differences between treadmill and over-ground walking and running abound, but most have been refuted by my research here and here on the biomechanics of walking and running on a treadmill versus over-ground. For example, my research has helped to dispel pseudo-scientific claims that are often made by well-meaning trainers and coaches such as “the treadmill belt propels you forward so that you do less work,” and “the treadmill belt pulls your leg through, resulting in a relatively passive extension of the hip, which reduces conditioning of the hip extensors.” Claims such as these – like many claims that are made about walking and running – are simply not evidence-based. The fact is, whether you’re moving over a stable base or the base is moving beneath you, the relative motion is the same, amounting to the same biomechanical conditions. In other words, you’re working all the same muscles in the same way, which is what really matters in terms of your workout.

A treadmill offers a certain amount of compliance or springiness, which helps to reduce the peak forces through the joints and other injury-sensitive areas of the body. OESH shoes are uniquely designed to have a similar springiness, which is very different than the cushioning in a traditional (non-OESH) running shoe sole that actually increases, rather than decreases, peak forces through joints, as we showed in this study here.

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your treadmill workout:

Tip Number 1:

Set the treadmill to “Manual.” That is, don’t fuss with the fancy programs that are often available on a treadmill. This gives you more control over how much you push yourself. Basically, you want to listen to your body (as you would when running or walking outside), not the machine. This will help keep you in tune with any developing aches and pains that could lead to injury.

Tip Number 2:

Keep your stride cadence, that is, the number of times that the same foot touches the ground in one minute, at 90 or above. If it’s any less than that, you’re over-striding. That is, you’re taking longer strides than what’s physiologically normal. Over-striding imposes excessive forces through your joints, bones, and tendons. Traditional running shoes with a typical raised cushioned heel contribute to an unnaturally long stride whereas shoes like OESH that are perfectly flat in all directions can help get your stride and your cadence where they should be, naturally.

Tip Number 3:

Listen to music! Listening to songs that have a good strong beat like Hip Hop and Rock can improve your motivation as shown in this study, which in turn improves the quality of your workout. I still strongly discourage listening to music while running outside on the streets since headphones make you oblivious to cars, bicycles, and other potential dangers. But I’m all about cranking it up when on the treadmill. Also, don’t be afraid to explore other things that may motivate you, like watching TV. The treadmills at the Y have a “Virtual Active” display that take you virtually through a bunch of running courses around the world. I’ve been enjoying virtually running in Italy, Argentina, New Zealand, and along the Sunset Strip in L.A.

Tip Number 4:

You don’t have to run on an incline if you don’t want to! I’ve never used the incline on a treadmill. This is mainly because it confuses me as to how hard I’m actually working, but it is also because of this seminal study here showing that there are no clinically significant biomechanical differences between running on a moderate incline or a level treadmill surface. That is, the peak stresses on your knees and your other joints are the same whether you run on an incline or not. It is true that running on a treadmill is slightly easier than running over-ground (because of compliance as well as the lack of air resistance) but I find that I’d rather just increase the speed a bit rather than run on a slight incline. I find that incline is an added variable that seems to be very inconsistent between different treadmills. The reason for the variability lies in how the treadmill is mechanically jacked and supported when in an incline position. Depending on the quality of the treadmill, the incline mechanism affects the stiffness of the treadmill surface and can sometimes introduce vibrations, which complicates things even more. I like to know exactly how much work I’m doing. And altering just the speed allows me that opportunity.

Tip Number 5:

If you’re training to increase endurance, follow the 10% rule:  Don’t increase your mileage any more than 10% per week. What’s not well recognized is that it takes longer for your musculoskeletal system to adapt to training than it does your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. When first starting out you will notice your breathing gets easier in the matter of days and you may very well want to increase at a faster rate than 10% per week. But just remember, it takes weeks and months, not days, for your muscles, tendons, ligaments and even bones to get stronger. Be patient. It will happen, as long as you don’t push yourself too hard, too fast and get injured.

I hoped I’ve convinced you that a treadmill is a great way to get that fitness related New Year’s resolution started. But just in case, here’s one more reason you may be afraid to admit. Working out on a treadmill versus working out over-ground offers the unique ability to… drum roll… go to the bathroom whenever you need to. Nobody ever talks about this advantage, maybe because most people writing about this sort of thing are men, who when they find themselves in this awkward position during a run, need only find a good tree. I, on the other hand, have been known to plan my entire outdoor running route so I can be near a bathroom whenever nature calls. But there’s no need for extravagant planning when running on a treadmill. If all of a sudden you’ve just “gotta go,” you can just hit pause and take care of business. No muss, no fuss.

Oh, and if you’re wondering which OESH shoes are featured above, they’re our new OESH Lea Storm Clouds. Below is a slow-mo video of them in action. Enjoy!

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