Love the Treadmill

Generally, most coaches, myself included, only recommend using the treadmill for a portion of runs, or when running outside is unsafe during a training cycle. Given that races are generally held outside on the uneven ground, it’s important to get used to running on uneven ground, with wind resistance, and on courses with turns for best race results. The treadmill doesn’t do a very good job of replicating real race conditions since you can only run evenly in one direction on a nice, soft, smooth surface.

Generally speaking, treadmill running is easier than running outside. The moving belt enables faster leg turnover, making it easier to run faster with lower effort levels. The soft, bouncy surface of the treadmill also doesn’t enable to same soft tissue adaptations as running on a harder surface, so soft tissue injury is a possibility when returning to the road. Finally, there are no adverse circumstances on the treadmill – no weather, no turns, no cracks, no lumps and bumps. The body and mind don’t have an opportunity to adapt to the reality of running in imperfect conditions, on an imperfect surface. There is also a distinct psychological benefit to running outside that has been established in several studies. Research suggests that runners simply enjoy outdoor running more, and feel better after an outdoor run. (Side note: as a mental health professional, I find this super interesting. If you do, too, check out this article and this study – put them in Google Scholar for best results)

That being said, there is no evidence that running on a treadmill is detrimental. There are a number of studies to this effect, and the treadmill is a well-established training tool for runners at every level. Most people accept that treadmill running is just fine if it is done well, with proper mechanics, and in moderation.

If  you’re planning to use the treadmill for a portion of your training, here are some great tips to love the treadmill.

First, monitor your form to avoid injury. It’s hard to love the treadmill if it’s hurting you. It’s best to run most of your treadmill runs at a pace that feels easy and use the treadmill for speed work cautiously. The treadmill enables a runner to program a pace and hold that pace long after the runner tires. Running a too-fast pace when you’re tried on a moving belt can result in over-striding, landing with the foot too far in front of the body. Running a too-fast pace on a moving belt can also result in all manner of problems with running form. Poor form and over-striding can lead to hip, knee, ankle, and hamstring pain. To resolve this, monitor your form and your stride rate. If you stride rate is lower than at the same pace outside, you’re over-striding, using the belt to propel you, and at risk for injury.

Run a variety of runs on the treadmill. It’s temping to run the same pace at the same incline mile after mile, settling into a treadmill routine. The treadmill belt’s flat, smooth, uniform surface ensures that you work your muscles and joints in exactly the same way. Too much of the same is a bad thing and can result in repetitive stress injuries. For treadmill happiness (and less boredom!) change up your run, using the treadmill’s programs, or running a variety of speeds and inclines on each treadmill run. I’ve already posted two of my favorite winter treadmill runs – the SportsCenter run and the college basketball run. Here are two other treadmill runs I love:

  1. Commercial Fartlek – Warm up 10 minutes at an easy pace. When a commercial comes on, increase your pace by 30-60  seconds per mile until the commercial is over, at which time you return to the easy pace. Continue on until you reach the desired mileage or time. Warm down by running 5ish minutes at a 1-0% incline.
  2. Character Fartlek – Warm up 10 minutes at an easy pace. Select a particular character in the show/game. When the character comes on, increase your pace by 30 seconds per mile until the character leaves the scene. If the character speaks or does a target activity in the scene, increase the incline by 1%. Once the character stops speaking or leaves the scene, return to the easy pace. Continue on until you reach the desired mileage or time. Warm down by running 5ish minutes at a 1-0% incline.

Finally, make your treadmill run as much like an outdoor run as possible. Even if you could just pop your water bottle on the console, carry your bottle or wear your belt as you might outside. Wear appropriate running shoes, not beat up old gym shoes, and use the treadmill as an opportunity to mimic race conditions. Practice slowing down to drink if you normally do, or wear a race-day outfit that isn’t appropriate for your outdoor conditions (a great option if you’re like me and race in warm weather conditions on vacation during a frigid winter). The more you can vary your treadmill running, and make that running as close to outdoor running as possible, the safer, and happier you’ll be.

Treadmill running

College Basketball Treadmill Workout

It’s been super cold and snowy in New England, so that has meant lots of treadmill running for this girl. I’m not a huge fan of the ‘mill, but I have a few tricks to keep it interesting. Last week, I shared my SportsCenter progression run. Today, I’ll share another of my super cool treadmill workouts – the College Basketball Fartlek.

First, select a college basketball game. It helps if you’re not terribly interested in the outcome of the game, but care enough to watch. If you get too absorbed in the game, it’s tough to remember the changes. This workout is a fartlek, changing pace and incline according to what’s happening in the game.


The rules are simple –

Begin at an easy run pace and a 1% incline.

During the period of each foul resulting in free throws (i.e. replays, free throws, congratulatory high fives) increase the pace to the pace you would run short track repeats – something like 400s or 600s. For most of us, that’s about a 1.0 mile per hour increase.

During each time out, increase the incline on the treadmill by 3% for the duration of the time out.

It’s a simple, but effective, workout. Enjoy!

SportsCenter Treadmill Workout

It’s a snow day in New England in every sense of the word. Many businesses are closed, the roads are pretty much impassable, and the stores are sold out of everything, including bagged salad (?).

No salad :(


Before things got too bad, I headed to the gym to run, spin, and lift weights. I timed my run so that SportsCenter would be on ESPN so that I could do one of my favorite treadmill workouts. I am not a huge fan of treadmill running, so I’ve come up with a number of themed workouts to pass the time. This is a favorite and a nice little progression workout.


Dr. Rachel’s SportsCenter Treadmill Workout

Begin at a very casual running pace. The pace should ideally be long run pace or slower, what I call “all day” pace – the pace at which you feel like you could run all day – and a 1% incline.

When the ticker on the left changes to a new story, increase the pace by .2 miles per hour for the duration of the story. Repeat the increase for each ticker change.

During the commercial breaks, return to the casual, run all day pace.

Any time a “Top Ten” comes on, increase the incline by 1% for the duration of the Top Ten.

If a “This is SportsCenter” commercial plays during SportsCenter, rest on the treadmill edges for the duration of the commercial.

Simple, effective, and a fun way to pass the time on the treadmill. Enjoy!

A Resolution Rant

It’s that time of year, when the world resolves to lose weight, get fit, and be healthy. I love this time of year. I like the new energy and excitement around fitness. I don’t even really mind the newbies at the gym texting or resting while on a machine. Good for them. I’m glad they are at the gym and making an effort. I make an extra effort to be friendly at the gym this time of year. It’s my little way of encouraging people who might be hesitant or new to the gym.

What really bothers me about this time of year is the terrible “advice” that I hear at the gym.  This week, I hit the treadmill at my local gym with some friends. The temperature was in the single digits, so running outside was not an option for me. I don’t run outside in less than 15 degrees. So, I hit the treadmill. From across the way I heard the “trainer”, a certified personal trainer who I think is terribly unkind, screaming at his charges. He was urging them to work harder, push more, and keep going. Now, I love an in-your-face style of coaching. I like to be pushed. But these poor people were clearly gym newbies. One was wearing slip on casual sneakers. One was in jeans. None seemed to know what they were doing and not one was using the weights or machines with proper form. And all their “trainer” was doing was yelling at them. He use a condescending tone, and I even heard him belittle one woman for resting. Horrible. Later, I saw this same trainer with a group of folks doing what looked like an interval/circuit workout. One women stopped to take a drink of her water bottle. He accused her of “not wanting it”, “not trying”, and “not even working”. She looked close to tears. Horrible! Drinking water should be encouraged when working out and visibly sweating. Again, all his charges had terrible form and he was yelling at them to work harder. Forget that they were mere feet away, his voice was at a full-on yell. He mocked one woman, telling her if she had “abs of steel” she could “do better”. I was truly horrified. I made my second complaint about this trainer to the manager.

It bothers me when I see behavior like this because it isn’t what fitness should be about. Fitness should make you feel amazing. Your trainer should make you feel good about yourself. She should encourage you, cheer for you, and push you when you need it. She should push you in the way that you like to be pushed, which might very well be yelling, but it might not. Bottom line – I worry that the behaviors of bad trainers, unkind people at the gym, and other haters will deter fitness newbies. Fitness newbies, I hope that you realize that there are nice people, friendly trainers, and good groups out there. Find one and have fun. Fitness is really about having fun and feeling great.

Treadmill Thoughts

The weather has driven me inside. I guess I am a bit of a fair weather runner, but I just can’t run in single digits or freezing cold rain/sleet. Therefore, I’m stuck on the treadmill and not liking it. I find running on the treadmill hideously boring. Despite that, this week’s treadmills runs have felt great. The reason? I can run really fast (well, not objectively fast, but fast!).

I started out running on the treadmill as soon as I was allowed to run after knee surgery. Everyone starts on the treadmill because it’s soft and there are no unpredictable cracks, rocks, or sticks underfoot. Plus, it makes it easier for unstable knees to have the belt coming at them at a steady pace. That first run was either hilarious or horrible – I’m still not sure which. I was lopsided and had a pronounced limp. I thought that I looked a bit like Inspector Gadget (from the old cartoons) when one of his gadget limbs malfunctioned. I love Inspector Gadget and if you watched the cartoons you know exactly how I looked when I was running those first few months. I “ran” pathetically slowly – about as fast as most people can walk. I kept going and got faster and faster. I clearly remember running at 4mph (a blistering 15 minute mile) for the first time. I felt so free. My gadget leg and I faithfully hit the treadmill for months before braving outside running. Just before I ran outside for the first time, I was running at a top treadmill speed of 4.8mph (12:30 per mile). This week I hopped on the treadmill and started with an easy warm up jog. I looked down at the treadmill and found myself running 5.6mph (10:40 per mile) at an *easy warm up jog*! I couldn’t believe it. I know a 10 minute mile isn’t fast by any stretch of the imagination, but I felt like I was flying. Watch out Kara and Shalane, here comes Rachel! I suppose this is perhaps something that only the recently-injured experience – pure, uncomplicated joy at running a glacial pace. That’s why I run – to feel free.