For today’s tip, I’m discussing treadmills. Or, as they are more commonly known as, dreadmills.
Treadmills can be a WONDERFUL tool, especially for those of us who live in climates where running outdoors might very literally be a safety risk for long portions of the year. They can also be invaluable to parents with children at home and when traveling in unfamiliar or unsafe cities.
So taking all of these good qualities into account, I want to discuss why I recommend that you not live and die by treadmills or their data.
A lot of folks (and “a lot of folks” does include me) do not like running on treadmills due to how unstable they feel. Some of us feel like we accident-prone enough all by ourselves and that we do not need to introduce moving belts and potential power loss into the equation. But WHY do we dislike treadmills for this reason?? Because the treadmill is running us; we are not running the treadmill.
Unlike outdoor running, where you are in 100% control of your muscles and momentum, a treadmill sets it for you. As a result, over the years I’ve found that treadmills can give athletes a false self-assessment of their abilities. Many runners question why they feel so differently running outside (especially those who run on treadmills for a majority of their runs), and the reason definitely boils down to the fact that the running surface is moving on a treadmill, and it is not when we are outside. It is so important that we learn how to control our own muscles and keep our own momentum, especially if our goals are in the “real world” where the terrain doesn’t move underneath us.
In that same realm, treadmills also provide data that can give athletes a false sense of speed or ability (in either direction - either faster than they really are or slower than they really are). I recently had an athlete conduct the same exact workout at the same exact RPE inside on a treadmill and then outside. The difference between the athlete’s timed miles was 2:38 per mile (the treadmill time was slower). TWO MINUTES AND THIRTY-EIGHT SECONDS PER MILE. If we had remained satisfied with the treadmill time, the athlete’s self-perceived abilities (and my perception of the athlete’s abilities) would have been so far off that ripples into the training plan that it could have caused are innumerable. (Very fortunately, this athlete has a coach who recognized something was off on the treadmill test and had them re-test to get accurate data outside, but I digress. ;) )
My main point with all of this is this: like all data that you ingest as you train, take treadmill data and how you feel when running on a treadmill with a grain of salt. Do not assume that it’s 100% accurate. Like I've said so many times over the years: The very best barometer of how you are doing and feeling is your own perceived exertion and self-awareness. Peripheral tools (like a treadmill) are there to help us hone in on that self-awareness and fine-tune our ability to truly listen to our bodies so we can realize our own true potential. :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.