STRIDE on How To Learn To Love The Treadmill

This month, STRIDE Head Coach Leanne Pedante contributed to a piece on the MayMyRun blog, The Treadmill Isn't Punishment. She explains how treadmills have gotten such a bad reputation and how people can use treadmills in their training.

Why do you think the treadmill has gotten a bad reputation?

Treadmills have caught a bad rap through a combination of concerns and fears - some of them valid, some of them not. One misconception you'll hear is "treadmill running is so bad for your joints" but this truly depends on what type of treadmill you're running on, and how you're running.

Traditional treadmills used a conveyor belt design, so there was some slipping between your foot, the conveyor belt, and the deck underneath that could put extra stress on your joints.

At STRIDE, we only use Woodway Treadmills. These treadmills are constructed completely differently than the traditional conveyor belt design. You’ll see Woodways in rehabilitation offices in all the NBA and NFL training facilities, precisely because they’re so easy on the body. On these treadmills, there is no belt - instead, you are running on 66 individually-responsive, shock-absorbing slats. There is no slipping and the surface is so easy on your body that it feels like you’re running on a soft, flat trail. When clients first step onto them at Stride, they can’t believe how much better it feels than “regular” treadmills.

People going too long or too hard or too fast is another reason I think treadmills have been vilified. In a gym environment, someone who has not run in 20 years might see an empty treadmill and, without a second thought, hop on, crank up the speed, hang onto the rails and run or shuffle forward until they’re totally exhausted. Do this enough times, in the wrong shoes or without proper warmups and stretching, and yes, you have a high likelihood of injury. But is that the treadmill’s fault? If these same people threw themselves into an equivalent running workout outside on pavement (again, without considering footwear, form or a progressive training plan) I would guess they would still have a high injury rate. Whether outdoor or indoor, if your body is not accustomed to running at all, you need to outfit yourself properly and allow your body time to adapt.

Or maybe it’s just the treadmill’s dark history that keeps its bad reputation hanging around.  In the 19th century, treadmill-like devices were used as hard labor punishment in prisons. Somewhere deep in our memory, we’re still holding that against them.

What should people know before running on the treadmill? How is it different from the road or track?
For the most part, running form is the same indoor and outdoor. Indoor running can be a little scary for those new to it. Fear of slipping off the back sometimes translates into people running with their torsos almost pressed against the treadmill console (while they have 4’ of room on the belt behind them). Running so close to the front of the treadmill inhibits a natural arm drive and then disrupts your stride. I’ll often remind people to back off their panels and let their arm swing open up. If your knuckles hurt or you can hear your wedding ring hitting the treadmill console, you’re too close.

Vertical bouncing is the other habit to watch out for. When running outdoors, we have to lean slightly forward to actually move forward. Without that lean, we would just stay in place, jumping up and down. That slight lean puts us in a position where gravity helps us move forward. I remind runners to mimic the feeling of running into a strong wind, keeping their neck, torso and hips tall, while just slightly hinging at the ankles.

How many times a week do you think people should be training on the treadmill? Do you think it should be a regular part of their training plan?
Again, I think it matters what type of treadmills people are training on. But I would absolutely endorse training on a Woodway treadmill 4-6 times each week. The impact is so low that you can log a lot of miles without the joint and bodily stress we can get from pounding pavement day after day. I love Stride classes because we’re doing interval work, so our clients are doing HIIT training, with hill work, speed work and strength work, while getting an amazing cardio workout.

What are a few tips for people to learn to love the treadmill?
Mix it up! There are lots of interval timer apps available for free. Pick a low, medium and high speed for your current ability and make up your own interval workout. The time will zip by and you’ll find you can increase speed faster when doing it in smaller chunks.
Use the incline! While you may hate the idea of running hills, they not only make you stronger, but also faster. Even if you are walking you can create an incredible HIIT workout by varying your incline.

Great music is key. I am a big fan of having a playlist filled with your “power songs” that make you feel invincible. Alternately, Spotify has a running playlist option now that lets you adjust the rhythm of the music to match your foot cadence. Finally, remember - not all treadmills are created equal!

Leanne Pedante