Whenever I get on a treadmill, I feel as if I'm not running quite right - as if I'm running slower, and that my running motion isn't the same as when I'm out on the road.
This isn't just a gut feeling brought on by my aversion to running inside without going anywhere. Your stride really does change on a treadmill.
In a recent study published in Sports Biomechanics, British researchers had 12 people who ran at least three times a week run on both a treadmill and outside. They used an eight-camera motion-analysis system to record movement of the hips, knees, and ankle joints of those runners.
"There is a long-held notion that the two types of running are similar, but it had not been examined scientifically using sufficient detail," said Jonathan Sinclair, course leader for sport technology at the University of Central Lancashire.
They found that the mechanics of running on a treadmill as opposed to running outside are entirely different, at least in the lower body. When the study subjects ran outside, they experienced greater hip flexion, which Sinclair says suggests runners use a shorter stride on the treadmill than on the road. The anklea also move more when running outside.
"Both of these are likely to be a consequence of the belt moving and the fact that we don't actually move forward when running on the treadmill; rather, the belt moves underneath us," Sinclair said.
So is running on a treadmill bad for you? It could be. The study concludes that running on treadmills could put runners at a greater risk of overuse syndromes such as tibial stress syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and anterior knee pain, so they should be used "with caution."
But don't throw the treadmill out just yet. There are a lot of things working in their favor. They aren't covered in snow and ice. They don't come with inattentive drivers who cannot navigate said snow and ice. You can turn a light on around them at any time, and I don't think I could run on the road while binge- watching episodes of Scandal on my iPad (thanks, gym, for the free WiFi). I run on treadmills a lot when I'm traveling, too. It beats getting lost in a new-to-me city.
Treadmills are also excellent tools for speed work. If you're having problems with intervals on the track, forcing the belt to move at a certain speed can help get you going.
What this study shows, though, is that you can overdose on the treadmill, and if you're going to run a race outside, you must get in miles on the road, no matter how addicting Scandal may be.