Treadmills (Yay or Nay?)

Posted: December 6, 2011 in Run, Training
Tags: ,
  • Long(ish) Run (click to see stats)
  • 9.77k (48:59)
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 163bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 174 bpm
  • Avg. Pace = 5:01/km
  • Best Pace = 3:24 /km
  • Calories = 932
  • Temp = 5º (rainy)
  • SOTD: ‘One Sunday Morning’  by Wilco

I am just now beginning to seriously get back into running.  Yeah, sure it’s December but what can you do?  I enjoyed my time off but now it’s time to get serious and get back to business. Fortunately, the temperatures so far have been extremely warm for this time of season as, usually, by now there either is or has been snow on the ground.  Tonight, I have to deal with the rain instead.

As I’m getting all gussied up and getting ready to go out, I was confronted by other running buddies in the locker room who where taking the (much) easier route on running indoors on the treadmill instead.  So after the initial rounds of mocking and verbal volleys of ‘you’re crazy’, ‘…nuts’ and ‘…insane’, we parted ways for our respective workouts – they in their comfy shorts and dryfit t-shirts and I in my tights, fleece and blinky reflective vest.  I can honestly say that I did feel somewhat silly heading out into the cold rain where I could just stay indoors and run comfortably instead but I just can’t bear running on a treadmill.

Seriously, I’d rather put out a campfire with my face than endure another treadmill workout…but are treadmills really that bad?  After all, there has been an entire book written for treadmill training (Treadmill Training for Runners).  Some elite runners even embrace treadmills (*gasp*).  Both the male and female winners of the 2000 US Olympic Trials Marathons, Rod DeHaven and Christine Clark, were heavy treadmill users.  In fact, Clark, an Alaskan, did almost all of her training on a treadmill in her basement in preparation for the Olympic Trials.  So it’s obvious that treadmill training can be as effective as running outdoors…or can it?  But, still, that doesn’t make it any less boring in my mind.  And so I pondered the potential pros and cons of treadmills over the course of my very wet 10k route and this is what I came up with.


1.  Convenience.  One of the great things about running is that you can do it almost anywhere, anytime.  But there are situations in which outdoor running is impractical and treadmill running might be more preferable…like, when it’s -8º  in near whiteout conditions and the roadways are icy and treacherous.  Another example may be if you often run before the sun comes up, a treadmill can spare you from having to run in the dark and risk being taken out by some dipshit in a Dodge Caravan running late for his early conference call.

2. Controlled workouts.  Even when you can run outdoors, running on a treadmill may be preferable in certain circumstances (or so I’ve heard anyway).  For example, if you want to practice running at your goal pace before an upcoming race, you can take advantage of your ability to dial in a precise pace on the treadmill and use it to get your body and mind accustomed to holding that pace steadily, or practicing running at a higher cadence, whatever.  In fact, most aspects of the workout can be instantly controlled by the user: speed, incline, warm up period, cool down period, and energy spent.

3. Easier on the body.  With all the wear n’ tear that triathletes punish their bodies with, sometimes it’s nice to get a low-impact workout session in.  Running on a treadmill feels easier physically because the ground is being pulled underneath your feet and there’s no wind resistance where running outside demands more from your body because you’re propelling your body forward stride for stride. Treadmills are padded, making them a good option if you’re fatigued, overweight or are experiencing minor injuries (especially with knee issues) and want to decrease the overall impact temporarily. For the record, you can better simulate outdoor running by setting your treadmill at 1% incline…just sayin’.


1. May develop imbalances.  While running on a treadmill, you are no longer required to pull your body forward with the back of your legs. Your left foot lands, the treadmill drags it behind you and you land the right foot before the left gets dragged back too far. Essentially, you’re lifting the back foot forward then cushioning the impact with your knees without needing to pull the leg back (since the machine does that for you).  This ‘pull back phase’ is vital for good, well balanced running and regular treadmill sessions may be robbing your butt muscles and hamstrings of the muscular development they require to be a good over well balanced runner that you would otherwise get while running outside.

2. Lack of real world conditioning.  This is what I will otherwise refer to as “mental toughness”.  When you run on a treadmill, you are spared the hassle and inconvenience of dealing with such important nuances as terrain, wind, temperature and the elements…all vital things you will absolutely need to deal with come race day.  How will you react to running in the cold, or the rain, or against the wind if you’ve conditioned yourself to run in only tolerable nicey-nice conditions?  For me, this is the prime reason I run outside as, hey, race day is also like a box of chocolates, you just “never know what you’re gonna get”…so best be prepared.

3. Burns less calories.  Need I say more, chubs?

4. Scenery?  Treadmills are boooooooooooring at the best of times.  Sure, some may come equipped with a television or whatever but, really, how hard are you working out when you’re watching Cake Boss’  instead of doing your speed intervals?  No matter how much I try, there is nothing to be enjoyed about staring at my sweaty reflection in the window ahead of me for hours on end while running in place on a treadmill.  Perhaps other people don’t mind staring transfixed on their own image in a mirror, or whatever but, personally, I need the comfort of experiencing different routes, seasons, climate changes, etc, and let’s not forget about f-r-e-s-ha-i-r.  Having to breathe in the bodily stench of the Sasquatch running beside me for an hour is not my idea of a fun training run.  Hells no!

5. Less chance of quitting.  Once you’re out – you’re out.  The only way to get back is to haul ass and make it happen, unlike running on a treadmill where you just step off and press ‘Stop’.  Lord knows, I’ve had days where I felt like quitting but when you’re still 12k  from your destination, there’s really not much else to do but cinch up your apple sack and get moving.  I wonder how many runs I might have bunked off had I been on a treadmill instead?

6. Downhills?  Yeah, good luck with that on a treadmill.

So, while I leave the overall verdict to you, personally, I’m keeping up with my habit of running outdoors as often as humanly possible come rain, wind, sleet, snow, zombie uprising…what have you.  Besides, I also learned tonight that running outdoors – despite the sloppy conditions – isn’t nearly so bad when you have something positive to dial into mentally in order to make the time go by.

  1. Wilson says:

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