Saskatoon can be a cold, dark and snowy place to run in the winter. Many athletes will hop on a treadmill to avoid battling adverse conditions. Though opting for the treadmill can be a smart way to get in a hard workout on an icy day, training exclusively on the machine can result in injuries or development of poor technique.
Bruce Craven, a sport physiotherapist, strength and conditioning coach and co-owner of Craven SPORT Services on Second Avenue, spoke with the Brainsport Times about how to maximize treadmill workouts and when they can be most beneficial.
Put the incline at 1%
Craven says one of the biggest problems runners encounter when they’re on the treadmill is they don’t use their glutes to push off the ground and propel themselves forward. Instead, the treadmill belt pulls their feet back into extension.
“Then really you just become a recovery runner instead of a pushing runner and the pushing is what’s so critical when it comes to running outside,” Craven says.
As a result, runners who run exclusively on a flat treadmill can be prone to hip flexor issues.
The solution? Put the treadmill at a 1% incline.
“One per cent is kind of ideal,” Craven says. “That just gives you enough incline to actually have to push off a bit.”
But don’t bump the incline up too much. If people run at too great of an incline they may push off too much with their calves and could end up with problems such as tight calves, sore Achilles tendons or shin splints.
Focus on form
Craven often reminds the athletes he sees that running is a skill that requires focus and attention. That can be lost on a monotonous treadmill run.
“Sometimes on a treadmill if you’re watching TV, not really having to pay attention because you don’t have anything around you that’s creating any stimulus other than just keeping your feet moving to the belt, you can run into some major technical faults,” Craven says.
If running form deteriorates, it can lead to a wide variety of injuries.
On the flip side, the monotony of treadmill running can be beneficial for people trying to focus on proper running technique because there are no other distractions, Craven says.
“You can actually demand focus because you’re not having to pay attention to other things,” he says.
Find uneven surfaces to supplement treadmill running
Craven recommends people who do lots of treadmill running go trail walking or find other uneven surfaces to traverse. This will help prepare them for running outside, where the ground is not as smooth or predictable as a treadmill belt.
“Walking is a great cross training for running,” Craven says. “If I’m only doing treadmill running, the good cross-training is good walking on uneven surfaces because it’s the uneven surface that protects the body.”
If you’re just getting back into running, the treadmill’s a good tool to start
Despite some of the drawbacks to treadmill running, Craven says there are some instances when treadmill running trumps running outside.
For example, the treadmill may be the safest way for runners recovering from injury to get back into the sport.
“You never get far from home, you can control the speed exactly and the pace exactly. And if you (put) the setting at some degree of incline, it’s helpful, but sometimes even in return to sport or running, being flat is good because you’re just getting that cyclical movement,” Craven said.
The treadmill can also be a good way for runners to start interval training because most machines allow athletes to set interval workouts, which makes the workout simpler.
Running on the treadmill is not the same as running outdoors, but sometimes going outdoors is not an option and hopping on the treadmill can be better than not running at all.
“It’s the closest you’re going to get,” Craven says.
— Andrea Hill (Editor, Brainsport Times)