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The ‘Dreadmill’!

Its this time of year, when the evenings are dark and cold, that I’m often asked about the pros and cons of treadmill running (or ‘dreadmill’, as I’ve heard it called in the past!) and what the differences are, if any, compared to outdoor running. As is common with most things running related, the way in which we as runners adapt our gait patterns to run on a treadmill are entirely individual, and specific to the runner (ref 1). Changes in posture (body position), cadence (leg turn-over), strike pattern (heel-forefoot-toe), upper body motion (rotation etc) are all fairly common when comparing an athlete running on a treadmill versus outdoor at the same pace (although it is worth saying that some runners will show no major change across the two surfaces!).  

The big issue we need to consider are the muscles used when on a treadmill, or – more to the point – the muscles that are used less. Whilst the Hip Flexors (bringing the thigh forwards) are working hard concentrically (shortening of muscle), the Hip Extensor muscles (responsible for the movement of the thigh backwards) are able to ‘cheat’ a little, as the movement of the belt assists in this extension. Not only do the hip flexors work hard bringing the thigh forward, they also work incredibly hard eccentrically (lengthening of muscle) in decelerating the backward motion of the legOf course, over a period of time this can lead to imbalances between muscle groups, increasing the risk of injury.

Treadmill of doom!

Most people are aware of the “1% Rule” when discussing treadmill running; this is where setting the machines incline at 1% is thought to be optimum for replicating outdoor running conditions (ref 2). I have seen this percentage vary (up to 5%) to replace the much more undulating nature of outdoor running vs treadmill running.

Of course there are also many pros to treadmills; what’s not to like about an option of winter training indoors, warm, light, safe and with a TV screen in front of you! There is also the argument that treadmills are slightly easier on your joints (ref 3), although I’m not overly convinced the research supports this 100%.

So are treadmills any good?  My opinion; given the choice between running outdoors or on a treadmill? Outdoors, every time. Given the option of running on a treadmill or not running at all? Then the treadmill does a job!


  • 1. A kinematic comparison of overground and treadmill running |
  • 2. A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running. |
  •  3. Joint Effects from Treadmill Vs. Street Running |

N.B. There are no ‘one size fits all’ style quick fixes in most injury scenarios, so these article shouldnt be seen as such. They are merely guides to a better understanding of how our bodies work.

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