Running on a Treadmill Is an Important Way to Build Fitness

By Rick Morris

The next time you walk into your neighborhood gym or fitness center, take a look at the treadmills. There are probably a lot of them and they are all in use. The treadmill has become the most popular piece of exercise equipment available. There is good reason for the favor of the treadmill. Running on a treadmill is, without question, the most efficient cardiovascular exercise machine for burning calories and improving fitness.

A study conducted by the Medical College of Wisconsin compared the calorie burning ability of the treadmill to that of a stair-stepper, cross-country ski machine, exercise bike and a rowing machine. The treadmill came out on top at all intensity levels. At easier exercise levels, the treadmill burned around 550 calories per hour compared to the stair-stepper, which was runner up with about 500 calories per hour. At a higher exercise intensity level, the treadmill burned 850 calories per hour with the stair-stepper a distant second with 700 calories per hour.

The treadmill is also the only choice for improving your running performance. No other machine will duplicate the mechanics of running. Only the treadmill will allow you to train indoors and still use the same bio-mechanical motions involved in outside running.

While running on the treadmill allows you to come very close to duplicating outside running, it is not exactly the same. The most obvious difference between the treadmill and outside running is the moving belt of the treadmill. Instead of propelling yourself across the ground, you are simply keeping your position on the moving belt of the machine. This makes treadmill running slightly easier. The lack of wind resistance also makes treadmill running a bit easier. When you are running outside you are moving through the air. This creates your own wind resistance. When you run on the treadmill you are stationary. There is no wind resistance.

The assisting factors of the moving belt and lack of wind resistance are very easy to overcome. To make running on the treadmill roughly equal to running outside simply elevate the treadmill 1 or 2 percent. The incline of the machine will more closely emulate outside running on a level surface. I would not suggest using higher inclines for normal running. Any elevations higher than 2% will be a hill training workout. Hill workouts are very valuable, but if you are trying to mimic flat outside running, stick with 1 or 2 percent elevation.

One major potential problem with running on the treadmill is the almost irresistible urge to hang on to the handles or railings. This can especially become a problem when you are fatigued. This can become a very hard habit to break. The best way to avoid this nasty habit is not let it get started. Do not allow yourself to start grabbing the handles. If you already hold onto the handles, try to break yourself of this habit gradually. Try setting short goals. Start with 2 minutes. Do not allow yourself to grab the handles for at least two minutes. Gradually extend this “no handle” period until you have broken this habit.

Mistakes Made While Running On a Treadmill

While running on a treadmill is easy there are a number of mistakes made. Here are just a few examples.

  • Sitting in the bucket. This is a very common flaw affecting beginning runners. The hips are pushed out in the back resulting in a “sitting” position. This position causes your feet to be in front of your body. You cannot achieve a strong push off and your stride become very vertical and “bouncy”. You waste a tremendous amount of energy when you run this way because a lot of your energy is directed in an up and down motion rather than the forward motion that is needed. It is almost like running in place. To avoid this flaw, keep your hips and butt tucked in and pushed forward. Concentrate on pushing off behind your body and pushing your hips forward.
  • Leaning forward at the waist. Some treadmill runners subconsciously lean forward at the waist in an attempt to push against the belt. You do want to have a strong push off, but it should be a quick, natural push off. Try to ignore the fact that you are running on a moving surface. Visualize running along a road, trail or track.
  • Pawing back excessively. This is another treadmill form flaw that is usually subconscious. There is a tendency to feel like you have to keep up with the moving belt. This can result in a “pawing back” motion in which you pull your lead leg forcefully back under your body. This results in poor running economy and injury risk. To avoid this, push off strongly behind your body and allow your body to “float” over your front foot as it come down directly under your center of gravity.

If you pay attention to your running mechanics and use the same good form that you run with outside, treadmill training will be equal to or even superior to outside running.

For in depth information on running on a treadmill see our ebook, Treadmill Training for Runners