Right now it's getting cold outside and the treadmills calling you. Or maybe somehow you're looking at this in the middle of summer, it's hot or it's rainy, whatever the reason is, you're thinking about, should I be running on the treadmill instead of going outside? Well, I'm Jesse Funk and on today's episode of Runner's High, we're going to talk about the pros and cons of running on a treadmill.
Make no doubt about it, if you've got a running routine, sooner or later, you're going to be faced with the prospect of having to get on that treadmill. But if you're like me, you're going to want to avoid the treadmill at all costs. It’s that damn machine that just ruins everything, ruins all the great parts of running. But it can actually be useful to us and believe it or not, I use the treadmill as a staple of my run training for several years as I was in kind of the peak of triathlon training, trying to keep my speed high over the winter when I simply couldn't get outside.
So, what are the differences between running on a treadmill and running outside, and how can we use that treadmill to our advantage? The first thing to consider is that treadmills actually help your speed, they aid you in going forward. So, you're not getting the same kind of benefit that you would on regular ground because you have that belt moving underneath you. And I know that doesn't always seem intuitive, in the sense that maybe your RPE is really high, your rate of perceived exertion is really high. You feel like the treadmill works you more than running outside on the ground. And I felt that way for a very, very long time, but there's kind of a reason behind it.
And that is that when you're running on the treadmill, you're going to be using your legs slightly differently than you would on the ground. There's a lot of things you don't need to do, and a lot of things that don't vary compared to running on the ground. Because like I said, that belt is aiding your movement, there is a lot of things that you don't need to do in terms of that push off force, you don't need as much push off force. But the thing that becomes more tiring is that you're using the same set of muscles in the same firing pattern over and over and over again on the treadmill. Because your terrain doesn’t vary.
When you don't change the incline of the treadmill, then the terrain stays the same. When you don't change the speed, nothing is changing, you're using that exact same firing sequence. Versus outside, you can go up, you can go down, you can be on the flat, you can be on rocks, grass, track, road, all these different services, all these variations, change what we are doing when we're running. We're using different stabilizer muscles in different ways and different strengths. And that helps the variation, not kind of, you know, whereas down by the same method that a treadmill would when we're using that same firing pattern over and over and over again.
So, how do you actually get the most out of your treadmill workouts or like me actually use them to improve yourself over time? Well, the key here is taking a couple tips into consideration. The first is that most treadmills when they are a zero percent gradient are actually going to be more similar to the biomechanics outside when you're running downhill. So, not only are you getting the speed aid of the treadmill itself, the belt’s moving, but in that kind of flat, supposed to be flat situation, it's closer to a decline or a downhill outside.
So, the general tip here is to run with a treadmill on at least a 1% grade. Now, more expensive machines may not have this problem. So, it kind of depends on your model. If you're at the gym, you're on a really nice machine. It may not be an issue at all, but that's something to take into consideration.
The other thing is that when you use that 1% grade, you can kind of ensure that you're going to have either a flat or maybe a slight incline which shouldn't be a big deal. And then you can help prevent some injuries with that because we're gonna have a more natural striking pattern with foot underneath our body. If you haven't seen that video where I do slow-mo myself doing that, those good biomechanics, subscribe to the channel, stay tuned, go check that out. But for now, let's get back to what are the other way that running on a treadmill can actually help you.
The second way you can actually use a treadmill to your advantage, not just to stay level but to get better is to actually pick a treadmill and stick with it. And that means like in my case, I go to the gym uses treadmills there because they have the ones that go faster. I don't have one in my house. So, when I go to the gym, there's rows and rows and rows of treadmills to choose from.
Well, it's important to select one treadmill and stay with that treadmill especially within the same model if you have to choose a different one. But picking one treadmill’s important because even within the same make and model, same manufacturer, two treadmills side by side, their calibration can be slightly different.
And this is very important when you put this second tip into practice and that is to calibrate your workouts based on your own RPE. Now, if you don't know what RPE is I discussed that in another video. As always subscribe to the channel, then go check that out. But RPE is rate of perceived exertion, it's how you feel, and I explain kind of how to go about learning RPE in that other video.
But what you do with the treadmill is you say, say in an instance I want to do a 10K type workout. So, we're going to do three minutes at 10K pace and then two minutes easy running. Well, I'm going to try to feel out why believe 10K pace feels like, that's where that rate of perceived exertion comes into play.
Now, wherever my 10K pace is in real life say it's 530 pace, maybe it feels you know appropriate on the treadmill at six minute pace. Well, don't get so caught up in no, I shouldn't be running 530 but the treadmill says six. Work on that RPE as a baseline with a treadmill. Because the speeds actually vary, what you want to do is you're getting that baseline.
And then from there when you repeat the workout, say you come back next week or a couple weeks from now and do the same workout, you can say, okay, last week I completed at six minute pace for my intervals. Let's try 555, 550, something a little bit faster. And then you are getting faster, you're putting in more effort on the same machine and because you calibrated, got that baseline to begin with, that you are progressing.
When you switch from treadmill to treadmill, different model, different makes, different machines, you may or may not be going faster or slower from where you were previously. So, that's why it's important to stay with the same treadmill each and every time if at all possible. So, those are my kind of two main tips on how you actually use the treadmill to be just as good as running outside. If it’s not just as good it’s pretty darn close and it'll keep you ready over the winter or whenever you have to be inside to be ready to go back outside, and kick it when you hit the actual ground. I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.