Running Tips: Avoid the treadmill

This is the time of year when a lot of people hop on the treadmills at their local gyms to avoid the cooler weather, rain, fog, and all of the other things our friendly local mail delivery person scoffs at.

Now, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I’ve hopped on the old ‘mill more than once in the past few years. No more. I do not plan on running another single mile on the treadmill. Why?

The shortest and best answer is injuries. It seemed that every time I would finish a workout where I used the treadmill that I would have pain someplace. Ankles, knees, hips. For a long time I blamed it on something else. I squatted too low, or I overflexed my hip. Trouble was, the pain kept coming back. And then I happened to talk to a running buddy.

He was someone who had long forsaken the mill, and the reasons he gave make a hell of a lot of sense. A treadmill attempts to “fake” movement by spinning a belt underneath our feet. The problem is that the motion to drive yourself forward in the wild is not quite the same as it is to push the belt back underneath oneself. And that’s just the first problem.

When we run, the actual speed of our foot as it relates to our body and the earth is highly variable. We’re not bicycles. Watch a slow motion video of someone running and this becomes clear. However, a treadmill’s motion does not vary. It stays at the same speed. That’s bad, it forces our joints through a slightly different stress pattern than when we run out in the world.

Another problem is one of belt stability. A brand new, top of the line, expensive pro quality threadmill probably has a fairly stable belt. It doesn’t move a ton side to side. It doesn’t “slip” if our footstrike is slightly ahead of us on a couple steps. However, even at the best gyms, the ‘mills are old. Sure, they’re maintained but more than likely they will slip, and that instability is murder on your joints.

The final issue is the “shock absorption” that most treadmills claim to give you. Do they give a bit underfoot? Sure. But not nearly enough for the pounding most people do to their legs when they step on a treadmill. I once asked a guy coming off a mill if he ran with the same level of impact while outside. He said no, he actually only ran on treadmills because of how much shock they absorbed. I then asked if he was done or if he was just getting some water. He said he was finished, because his knees hurt. I managed, just barely, to not smile.

OK, so great. No treadmills. So smart guy, now what? It is raining outside. Well, to that I say, so what? As long as there’s no thunder and lightning, running in the rain is great. Wear polypro, shoes with great drainage and a hat. Make sure you leave your iphone at home though, unless it is in a Lifeproof case.

Well, alright fine, you don’t want to get soaking wet. There’s tons of ways to get a workout similar to running right inside your house (and this works while you’re on vacation too!). One great exercise is 100ups. 20 sets of 100ups = right around a mile. Another fantastic workout is a jump rope. There’s a reason some of the fittest people in the world jump rope. Finally, work on your foot strength using slant boards. A strong foot will help create strong legs, hips, you name it. Eric Orton‘s wonderful book The Cool Impossible includes lots of slant board exercises and you can get a slant board here. Trust me, it is a game changer.

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