The first time I ran on a treadmill I hated it. I'd caught the marathon running bug in the early 80's and ran practically every day. Then I joined a gym to do some weights and came across treadmills for the first time. I can't remember what type it was, but I really struggled to run on it without fearing I'd fall of it.
Treadmills have moved on a great deal since that time, and now I'm just a comfortable on a moving belt as I am on the road. I happily train at my local gym for up to an hour at a time on them (depending on my workout for that day). And one thing I notice during my training, is just how many people are not getting the most from a treadmill due to a number of basic mistakes.
I'm not trying to be a smart ass here, just to point out these errors (which I've made at some point in my running career), so you can avoid them.
So here we go.
- Running too close to the front of the belt - I was certainly guilty of this one when I first started. It's usually because people are worried about slipping off the back of the belt and falling flat on their face. And let's face it, you'd feel pretty foolish doing that in a gym even if you didn't hurt yourself. When you get too close to the front, you end up shortening your stride and may start to slam your feet down harder than you should. To avoid, practice at a comfortable pace so you remain in the middle of the belt. When you've mastered this, then you can start to increase the speed.
- Hanging on the handles when using steep incline - If you need to hang on you're not comfortable with the incline. You also end up leaning back which negates the benefits of using the incline. By not using your arms, you're not getting the full benefit of your workout, and also not maintaining a natural balance. To avoid, train with a lower incline and learn to walk or run upright while using your arms. Relaxing your ankles will also help you cope with the slope on the belt. If you're holding on to use the pulse grips, I suggest getting a chest strap.
- Heel-Striking when running - You can hear the heel-strikers all over the gym. Landing on your heel can cause excessive stress on your knees and hips by landing with a straight leg with your foot ahead of your body - even if the belt is cushioned. Watch top sprinters and you'll see they land on the ball of the foot with it landing under their body. Listen to the sound of your feet and ask yourself if you can make less noise. To avoid, relax your ankles and let your feet land underneath you. will running tall. Imagine stroking the floor away to send it behind and you 'll get more of a spring to drive you forward. But note. if walking, you'll heel will strike first, but let yourself roll over the ball to 'peel' off the belt.
- Running Too Fast, Too Soon - Many are tempted to ramp up the speed and blast away. Yes, you can do short, high intensity workouts, but you still need to warm-up first to avoid injury, or that awful burning lung sensation :0( To avoid, either walk or jog for at least 3 minutes before cranking up the speed.
- Learning on the handrails - You wouldn't walk or run while taking the weight off your feet, so don't do it on a treadmill as you'll reduce any benefit of the workout. If you feel the need to use the handrails, you've set off too fast - see 4 above.
- Doing the same routine every time - 'I'll do my 20 minutes, then I'm done.' This is fine if you use your time to do intervals one day, inclines the next, or speed work. But if you do the same run every day, you'll get less and less benefit from each session. To avoid, you need to vary your workouts and challenge your body to adapt to the demands you're placing upon it.
- Assuming it's the same as road-running - The belt moves while your foot is still in contact with it - obviously the road doesn't. Running on a treadmill is different to the road. By my estimate, I reckon a mile on a treadmill is the equivalent of 0.9 mile on the road. This also means your timing will be quicker on a treadmill, and that's if the speed of the motor is accurate. So don't be fooled into thinking your 6-minute mile on the treadmill can be replicated outside (as I did!). On the road you also have to deal with wind resistance and changes to the terrain. To avoid, only compare like-with-like and don't get disheartened if your outside times are slower than your time on the belt.
- Not using the incline settings - Running on a treadmill is easy than on the road, so challenge yourself. Running constantly on the flat may not be raising your heart rate enough, or making your muscles work. To avoid... pretty obvious, use the incline. I rarely use a treadmill without an incline. Running at 1% incline actually makes your body work at a similar level if your running on a flat road. Running at 3% and above, increases the work your glutes and legs have to do, raises your heart rate, and starts to burn calories at a much higher rate than the same time on the flat.
- Not warming-up/cooling-down - The risk of injury or post-workout aches and pains increase if you've not done the necessary warm-up or cool-down. The warm-up period may differ depending on whether you've done weights or other cardio first. If starting cold, look to walk or jog for at least 4 minutes before raising your pace. Then repeat after your workout and include a few stretches lasting 20 seconds to remove the lactic acid from your muscles.
Try to avoid this common mistakes to get the full benefit from your treadmill workouts, but then try not to look too smug when others at the gym do them - yep, I've done that also :0(
By Roy Palmer, UK Athletics Coach and Teacher of The Alexander Technique