The Art and Benefits of Treadmill Running

Treadmill Training.jpg

Fam runs a sub 4 minute mile on a treadmill.

Serious runners often see treadmill running as a necessary evil, but to be avoided at all costs.  It is widely viewed as a supplemental training tool generally used during poor weather conditions, travel periods or when we have time constraints.  While these may be your main reasons for running on a treadmill, it may surprise you to learn that treadmill training can actually have some unique benefits.  Here are a few insightful tips to help change your perspective and give you a running edge.

Pacing/Cadence 

The beauty of treadmills is that once they are on pace, they stay on pace.  The speedometer doesn’t lie and will hold your legs accountable to work.  Don’t be intimidated by this.  You can use this to your advantage by setting the MPH at a target race pace you’d like to get familiar with.  You can teach your brain and body to run with a particular fast leg cadence and rhythm.  A common running term for this is “leg turnover”.

This is especially true if you use an Alter-G treadmill that can unweight the body and take up to 90% of your body weight off while you run.  Alter-Gs use a negative pressure bubble to lift you while you run.  I’ve personally used an Alter-G to run amazingly fast mile repeats and 400 meter intervals at 75% of my body weight.  This helped my leg turnover without the added physical stress and effort of hard intervals on the outdoor track. Alter-Gs are also useful for athletes after they have had an injury.  They are a great tool to help maintain fitness during rehab periods.  Unweighting can take stress off of your back, knees and lower legs while you maintain leg turnover and fitness.  Heavier athletes who are looking to get back into running, to lose weight or regain fitness, can obviously benefit as well.  The main challenge with an Alter-G is the astronomical price. They can cost up to $75,000. Treadmills that unweight or normal treadmills that go faster than 12mph are very expensive.

Fam Settling in

Demonstration of “Settling In” Technique.

Make it your goal to find a gym or facility near that carries a hi-tech treadmill.  I train at a YMCA that has several treadmills which top out at 16mph.  The cost to me is a small monthly membership fee that comes with all of the additional gym benefits.

Another key advantage to treadmill running is learning to settle into pace.  If you raced in high school or college, then you’ve likely heard your coach yell the phrase “settle in” during a race.  “Settling in” means to relax into your target race pace once your adrenaline has subsided and you’ve safely cleared the pack at the start.  The idea is to relax while keeping a fast rhythm without slowing down. This is easier said than done.

One way to practice “settling in” is with treadmill running.  This settling in video link demonstrates my one-of-kind practice routine for settling into pace.  When you see it done correctly, it looks like magic.

I’ve also included a video link that shows a session where I work on leg turnover as I complete a sub-four minute mile.  For a perfect sub-four equivalent, I would need to have some incline during the run, but for safety, I chose not to add incline on this treadmill while running a 15.1MPH speed. Inclines and hills add so much to a training regimen.

Incline/hill repeats

If you’re like me, then treadmill repetitions might conjure film images of Rocky IV’s Ivan Drago.  Like the aforementioned Russian boxer’s training, there is something seemingly unnatural about treadmill intervals.  I’d prefer to sprint up a scenic mountain in a more traditional, natural way, like Rocky did in that film.  In reality, we’re at the mercy of urban/suburban living.  Where I live, it is difficult to find a steep hill with a simple 100 meter climb, let alone a half mile long hill.  That said, here are five main upsides to treadmill hill repetitions.

•           You can choose the distance of the incline to your exact needs.

•           You can choose the exact percentage of incline to your needs.

•           You don’t have to run back down the hill to start over.

•           It is easier to make yourself commit and stay on target pace with a set MPH.

•           No cars or pedestrian traffic.

 

So clearly, if you are in need, due to your location or bad weather, then hill repetitions on a treadmill can be an incredible training tool.  Also, to get close to equivalent running efforts on the roads or track, you must use some incline during your normal runs or workouts.  A 1-2% incline can be adequate depending on what effort you’re simulating.  Any incline steeper than that at very fast paces can become dangerous .  If the treadmill you use is not leveled well it may shake heavily during incline and affect your effort as well as footing and overall safety.

I personally use a 2% incline for my normal (non-hill simulating) workout sessions at paces up to a 4:20 mile.  Anything faster than that, I make sure to find a well leveled or solid built treadmill.  If you also look at common running biomechanics on a treadmill, many of us tend to over-stride.  Using the incline can help shorten your stride and assist in avoiding hamstring and leg injury.  The main thing to do is to listen to your body and be aware of what works best for you.  It’s a good idea to have a friend run next to you during your first few times out to keep an on eye on how you look.

Mind Control

The main complaint with treadmill running is boredom.  Lack of scenery and fresh air can make an indoor run seem never ending.  This can be a downer, but it can actually become a positive training tool.  I’ve seen and heard of a few fast marathoners (Olympians) doing large portions of their pre-race running on a treadmill.  Most of these runners had to do so because they had small children or work obligations.  After a few runs they eventually became accustomed to the treadmill.  They learned to train their mind to zone into a meditative-like state while staying on pace.

This state of mind can come in handy during marathons where you’ll often find yourself separated from the pack.  The thinking is, if you can get used to staring at a wall for an hour or more for your daily runs, then when you eventually race, the change of scenery, crowds and competition will make the run that much more enjoyable and easier.  The aim is to basically train your mind to be patient within your race rhythm, as well as relaxed in your own thoughts.  Treadmill runs can promote contentment in the process of running, as opposed to constantly focusing and aiming for an end result.  If you learn anything from this blog, learn to change your perspective and see opportunity and benefit in uncommon places.  There are many unique ways to train your mind, body and soul to win.

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