The pros and cons of treadmill running
05 September 2011
Peta Bee is a health and fitness journalist who writes regular articles in The Times and other national newspapers and fitness publications. A Run England Group Leader herself, Peta still runs regularly and has completed six marathons.
"There are two types of runner – those who like treadmills and those who don’t. As someone who falls firmly into the second category, I can’t bear the hamster-wheel confinement of a mechanical running belt.
Yet others insist they find the treadmill reassuringly familiar. Nothing ever changes - no wind, no rain, no mud, no traffic - they know exactly what to expect. Ultimately, though, does your running surface preference really matter?
When it comes to fat-burning, several studies have shown that outdoor running burns about five per cent more calories than running on a treadmill, partly due to the lack of wind resistance indoors and partly to the fact that the motorised belt propels you along slightly. Physiologists at the University of Brighton’s school of sport science found that treadmill users who want the same calorie-burning effects as outdoor runners need to set the machine at a permanent one per cent incline.
But what about injuries? Interestingly, researchers have shown that newcomers to running may well experience fewer problems if they start out on treadmill which offers more ‘give’ than tarmac or concrete. Stick solely to the whirring belt, though, and over time your susceptibility to injury will rise. Outside your body is exposed to changes in terrain, undulation and direction that force you to use different muscles all the time. On a treadmill you use the same running style all the time which means you are loading the same muscles and body parts that could eventually become prone to stress related problems, particularly if your technique is not great to begin with.
That’s not all. Running outside boosts proprioception - the ability of the neuromuscular system to make changes to body position and muscle use in response to the different surfaces and challenges encountered. However, even a confirmed anti-treadmillite like me must concede there are some plus points to the equipment. If you feel unsafe or self-conscious running alone outdoors, treadmills can provide a source of security. And, of course, better to run indoors all the time than not to run at all."