For years, a myth has persisted that running on a treadmill is not as good as “real running” — that is, on a track, sidewalk, field, or anything that is not stationary. That myth has now been debunked.
The act of running, defined as a process in which both feet may be off the ground at one time, is a fairly strenuous physical activity that burns approximately one hundred calories an hour regardless of how it is accomplished. It is preferred by many because it is cheap, requires no gym membership, and can be accomplished at one’s own pace. However, many people prefer to run on a treadmill, as they fear running outside for safety reasons, or because the weather is bad, or maybe they have a small child at home. Some simply prefer to run in the privacy of their home.
When the actual biomechanics are looked at, treadmill running has a few small variations in biomechanics compared to outdoor running, explains exercise physiologist Reed Ferber, who is the director of the running injury clinic at the University of Calgary in Canada.
“You have more forward lean from your trunk and more flexion at the hips and knees when you run on a treadmill because you don’t need to generate as much power at the same speed as you do running on level ground outdoors.For the average runner, this doesn’t mean much.”
If you wish to really mimic outdoor running, you can vary your intensity and speed, as well as the incline and grade of the treadmill, which will mimic running up and down hills and will contribute to cardiopulmonary conditioning.
While no studies actually compare treadmill running injuries to outdoor running injuries, Ferber encourages those who are strictly to treadmill users to take it easy when they get back to the open road if they choose to.
“When you run outdoors, your calf muscles produce about 80 percent of the forward propulsion power but this drops significantly on a treadmill because the ground moves underneath you.When you transition from the treadmill to the road, you could be at risk for calf strains, plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis.”
However, treadmills carry risk of injury as well, so it should be noted that mindfulness while on a treadmill, and avoiding activities like looking at a cell phone, and using the emergency stop cord at all times, can mitigate treadmill injuries.