Is Treadmill Running as Good as Training Outside?

Treadmills can bring the outside into your own living room. Sounds ideal doesn’t it. You can run 10 miles withour leaving your house. But can treadmill running deliver the same benefits as training outdoors?

Treadmill running differs from road running in a number of ways and this should be considered when training. The first obvious difference is the lack of wind resistance when running indoors. Another difference is the surface. Although experts differ on this issue a smooth moving surface underneath your feet is not the same as an uneven stationary road. Most runners agree that running on a treadmill feels different to road. This should be taken into consideration when training.

Is running on a treadmill better than the road? This comes down to preference. Many prefer being outdoors whereas others have environmental, climatic or personal safety concerns making treadmill running an ideal choice.

Firstly let’s look at the psychological factors of running on a treadmill compared to the road. Unless you have a large room for your machine you will most likely to be facing a wall or window within a few meters. Research has shown that runners on treadmills take shorter paces that may be due to the proximity of a barrier or fear of falling off. It does take time to learn how to run on a moving surface and even when confident many runners will tighten their lower backs, again possibly a psychological reaction to staying on the machine.

When comparing physical technique, research has found that when the foot lands on the belt the foot, ankle and shin, become temporarily part of the belt and move backwards from the centre and mass of the body at the same speed. This means the shinbone of the leg landing is not as upright as with normal running and has a greater range of motion.

Treadmill running can be useful for injured athletes, using a mirror can be a good way to observe your technique (although it must be recognised that it is not the same as training on the road).

Whether using a treadmill or road you will need to vary your running program for two reasons. Firstly, if you continue doing the same distance and the same speed you will get less and less benefit as your body adapts. Secondly, you can soon become de-motivated by the same thing week in, week out. Alternating between shorter faster runs and longer distances at a slower pace will help to condition your body and improve endurance, muscle strength and cardio-vascular function. It will also provide you with variety and a different challenge for each session.

I usually recommend runners to use one or the other exclusively, because I see them as different activities.

Roy Palmer is a teacher of The Alexander Technique and has studied performance enhancement in sport for the last 10 years. In 2001 he published a book called ‘The Performance Paradox: Challenging the conventional methods of sports training and exercise’ and is currently working on a new project about The Zone. More information about his unique approach to training can be found by clicking Running Technique.