Treadmill running. You love it or you hate it. For some runners it can be very appealing come winter. But can we substitute outdoor training for the comfort of an indoor treadmill?
Does a treadmill running change your technique?
When it comes to your movement and joint angles there is conflicting evidence. Some studies will suggest there are no differences in kinematics between running on a treadmill and overground (A, Fullenkamp. 2018) but is contradicted older studies. From experience working in clinics, I see runners adapt to a treadmill well while others struggle. This may depend on the experience and level of comfort between runners using a treadmill. But to answer the question if treadmill running will make you a better runner, we will need to look at muscle forces.
Does it change which muscles are working?
Studies have shown increased activity in the peroneus longus muscle which primarily acts as an ankle stabilizer. This may be due to a safety response on the treadmill where more stability is needed. Additionally, lower calf activity at push-off was also demonstrated. This makes sense when considering the nature of a treadmill. Possibly due to the treadmill belt movement itself. The belt is moving underneath the runner and the leg simply needs to ‘lift’ rather than ‘push off’ to keep moving. Several studies have looked at decreased muscle activation of the calf and some have also looked at hamstring and quadricep activation on concrete, rubber, grass and treadmill. In all cases the treadmill presented with the lowest muscle activation (Baur et al. 2007).
Treadmill running: Is there a compromise?
When it comes to the effects on aerobic capacity science found treadmills to be a lot easier. However, you can mimic the energetic costs by simply running on a treadmill with a 1% gradient (Jones. 1996). This may also require the runner to push-off harder and contribute to more calf demand.
Weighing up the difference between treadmill and outdoor running, you will still experience some cross-over gains. However, treadmill running it will not exactly mimic the demands of outdoor running. So if you are preparing for a race, and send a lot of time on the treadmill, be careful! Besides, you want high specificity within your training. In other words, trying to mimic what you are training for as closely as you can. Outdoor running triumphs in this battle so make sure you do so whenever possible.
Relevant Blog posts
Relevant Podcast Episodes
- Richard Willy et al. Patellofemoral joint and Achilles tendon loads during overground and treadmill running
- Adam Fullenkamp et al. A Comparison of Both Motorized and Nonmotorized Treadmill Gait Kinematics to Overground Locomotion
- Baur et al. Muscular activity in treadmill and overground running, 2007.