Treadmills Anonymous

HUSBAND, FATHER, WRITER, PAINTER and ageing athlete who hasn’t quite hung up the lycra.

Treadmills Anonymous

A good few years ago I was lucky enough to pick up a reasonably good “domestic” treadmill in a New Year sale. Treadmills are not cheap but you can still get a decent one for less than the price of a carbon race wheel. In fact I only had one race wheel at the time. The treadmill was a better investment. A couple of coats of paint, the odd sweat induced short circuit and many miles on the clock later, I think it’s on its last legs but it has stood me well.

I am not ashamed to admit it but I really enjoy running on a treadmill. I don’t feel the need to qualify any mention of a recent vigorous treadmill session with talk of a blizzard or animals walking two by two past my front door. I do enjoy running outside, I like to run in all conditions – up and down hills.  I have run through deserts in Australia in 40°C heat and knee deep in snow through woods near my home. But I still like to run on a treadmill. I like the rhythm of it.  I set a target pace and time switch on the music and get lost in the rhythm of trying to hold a constant speed.  If I am pushing hard and feeling good I don’t even hear or need the music. It’s great for doing intervals too or any other type of run session you might like. Unlike running on the road it requires a conscious decision to push a button and slow down.  On the road I can lose concentration and slow without realising it. It’s easier to bail on a treadmill session which is a drawback and one I try to avoid.  But then on the rare occasion you might injure yourself running you are not faced with a long cold limp home.

There is a lot written about treadmill running on the internet.  Much of it nonsense, but the more informed opinions suggest there is very little difference between running outside and on the treadmill. I have done my fair share of both and would have to agree. Obviously there are great benefits to getting out into nature and fresh air. The body needs to get use to the impact of the hard road before attempting an Ironman marathon as well. There is no wind resistance on the treadmill but you never have the luxury of a tailwind either.

Many people can’t look past their incorrect assumption that the treadmill belt is pulling your feet back on landing and therefore doing the moving for you. Its not.

“Running on a treadmill is much easier than real running…Running up a gradient is only difficult on a treadmill because of the awkwardness of the gait; running up a hill requires that the runner moves their body weight against gravity and that is not done on a treadmill… Almost all of the exercise you get from a treadmill are from miming the action of running. I would say that you are in fact NOT running at all, but actually using the treadmill to more accurately mimic the stride of a runner while running in place(which is not running either)..If you lengthen your stride the belt has moved farther between each stride effectively increasing your speed without having to increase your effort.  Taking that farther, if you just jump up and down the treadmill will still record you as moving forward.”

Taking longer strides is not a short cut to a treadmill PB – it’s no different to longer strides on the road and jumping up and down will just fire you quickly off the back.

Running up a hill on a treadmill is tough and you are fighting gravity all the way. The biggest opposing forces when running is gravity acting on the up and down motion of your stride and the friction on your joints – both of which are the same wherever you run. My understanding of Newtonian physics is limited to apples falling from trees but apparently it explains simply why treadmill running is actual running. I have tried to work my way through some of the equations and have nearly convinced myself I understand where he is coming from but I must admit to being a bit lost trying to unpick the finer points of momentum and its affect on running. The momentum of a particle is traditionally represented by the letter p. It is the product of two quantities, the mass (represented by the letter m) and velocity (v).


On a treadmill the moving belt has momentum – apart from the forward and back movements of my limbs, as a whole I don’t have momentum. If the belt stopped suddenly and unexpectedly and it has a few times to me – I don’t shoot forward. On the road if I try to stop running my momentum forces me to keep moving forward.  It takes energy to stop (hence the padded walls at the end of a 60m track).

Might momentum have something to do with my outdoor 10K PB being faster than my best 10K on a treadmill? I don’t know but uultimately it doesn’t really matter. It only matters, as with the turbo trainer and road cycling (yes I am a big fan of that too), that I see improvement over time.

It can be an excellent and convenient tool in your training arsenal. But not everyone shares my fondness for the treadmill.