I used to shun treadmill running and would avoid it unless there was absolutely no alternative. Not only did I find it boring, but I also thought it didn’t provide the same level of benefits that road or trail running offered. But recently I’ve had a change of heart and have begun incorporating treadmill running as another dimension of my training regimen.
Justin Young, a professional distance runner, had an excellent blog post of advice on treadmill running. If professionals (including Haile Gebreselassie) are advocates of treadmill running to supplement their training, we mere mortals can probably profit as well.
As suggested by Justin Young, a quality treadmill is paramount to ensure you obtain the utmost benefits of running on a treadmill. I’m pretty fortunate because the fitness center I use has top-class Life Fitness 95T Engage treadmills. Because they are so solidly built and come with a wide array of different training programs, I’m confident that the data being presented during a workout (e.g., pace, distance, time, incline, calories, heart rate etc.) is fairly accurate. A good treadmill should not only feel solid to run on, but should have the ability to do all different types of training, such as tempo, intervals and hill workouts.
As far as the boredom factor, I try to keep my runs to under an hour and listen to podcasts or music on my iPhone. What is nice about the Life Fitness 95T treadmills is that I can plug my iPhone (or iPod) into the system and listen or watch programs on the treadmill’s LCD display. I have done 20-mile long runs (about 2 ½ hours) on a treadmill, but that is only on very rare occasions when the weather outside is too horrible to run in.
The major benefits I’ve experience from treadmill running are as follows:
Consistency in Training – Having access anytime to a high quality treadmill allows me to keep to my running schedule, regardless of the time of day, weather conditions or natural disaster. For example, with the recent earthquakes in Japan, with the subsequent radiation scare as a result of the tsunami at the Fukushima plant, where they advised everyone to stay inside, I was able to still get high quality training in, including a 20-mile long run. Not having access to a quality treadmill would have wrecked havoc to my training schedule. Also, Japan will be going into the rainy season next month for about 6-weeks and I’ll be able to maintain my schedule because I’ll have access to a treadmill on those rainy days.
Pushes You to Maintain Pace – A major benefit of a treadmill are that the pace doesn’t slow and remains consistent. Unless you want to fly off the back of the treadmill, you have to maintain the pace. I find this very helpful for interval training because I tend to slack off – which sometimes is not noticeable – when I run intervals on the road once my breathing gets too heavy. On a treadmill, I don’t have much option other than to keep up the pace – and I also don’t need to think about it, just run.
Added Dimension to Training – Running on a treadmill breaks up some of the monotony of running the same training routes. Although I’m not sure there are any scientific studies to back this up, but I feel the treadmill may use other muscles you normally don’t use when running on the road or track, which should provide benefits because you are developing other muscles you normally don’t use – especially if you use the interval and hill training functions. Also, the surface on a treadmill is fairly soft and not as punishing as road running, which should also help in recovery or injury prevention.
Although I still prefer running on the road for the majority of my training runs, I have begun to warm up to the idea of doing 20% – 30% of my running on a treadmill. My decision to run on a treadmill is highly influenced by the weather conditions on a particular day, but I now have a new outlook that the treadmill can actually improve my running if used properly as an enhancing tool rather than a substandard substitute.