The Upside of Treadmill Running
Time to flip your perspective on the "dreadmill."
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We’re in the midst of what many runners think of as “dreadmill season.” The holidays have passed but it’s still freezing in many parts of the country and you’re yearning to break out your shorts and tanks, breathe in the crisp, warming air, and perhaps run through a field of flowers in bloom. Or at least, not be using your running shoes as ice skates as you slip and slide your way around your usual 4-mile loop. Perhaps even worse than that scenario for some runners among us: hopping on a treadmill. But other than the fact that doing so means you can rock a few less layers (and yes, the gym air will indeed be warmer), there are many other perks to be had by hopping on the belt. And a cohort of your fellow athletes have already discovered them.
“I think that ‘dread’ element is not as bad as it was even a few years ago,” says Shodan Rodney, a certified personal trainer and run coach at Mile High Run Club, which offers group treadmill running classes in New York City. “Especially in the setting that I teach in, you have music, you have lighting effects, I have my mic on and I’m usually dancing around the room, and the communal aspect is there for you.” What’s to dread about that? In fact, in the past few months, Rodney has noticed more and more groups of friends and coworkers meeting up at lunchtime or after work to come to class together. And according to the National Sporting Goods Association, first-time purchases of treadmills were up 10 percent from 2017 to 2018.
So maybe things aren’t so dreadful? Here, more reasons to shake off your no-good-very-bad treadmill ‘tude, and how to get the most from this machine staple.
Why you should hit the ‘mill
“The treadmill provides the option to run in relative comfort even when the weather outside is dangerously cold, snowy, and icy, or on the flipside, extremely hot, humid, or polluted,” says Coach Angie Spencer of The Marathon Training Academy podcast and blog. Not to mention, there are far fewer non-weather-related obstacles—curbs, potholes, grass, trash, cars, stoplights, dogs, other pedestrians—indoors. “You can also run safely no matter the time of day, and for parents with young kids, it allows them to stick to their workout routine without leaving the house,” says Spencer.
Another boon: “It’s a lot more gentle on the body because the treadmill surface has more give,” says Spencer. So, for those runners with achy joints, supplementing some outdoor sessions on a treadmill, especially an extra-cushy one like a Woodway, is a primo way to log miles without quite as much impact.
But here’s where things get interesting for speed demons looking for a competitive advantage. Treadmill running reigns supreme as the ultimate tool to make you faster. Here’s why: “Because it’s constantly moving, it doesn’t require as much effort to propel yourself forward,” says Spencer. While it’s true that means your runs will feel—and literally be—easier, there are some very clear-cut benefits to this. “Speed work, like mile repeats and 800-meter repeats, are always really solid to do on treadmill because once you get the machine going, you don’t need to worry about anything else [since the ‘mill sustains your pace for you] other than your own form and your mechanics,” says Rodney. “You literally just have to hang on—you’ll always get a more thorough speed work on the treadmill.”
When to consider a treadmill class
That said, many runners struggle to push themselves through the demands of a speed workout by themselves. This is when a class can be hugely beneficial. “People often push themselves harder in response to the exciting atmosphere and seeing others work hard too,” says Spencer.
“The main benefit of a class setting is the communal aspect,” Rodney adds. “When you’re on a treadmill alone in a gym, it can feel like you’re on an island. In a studio it’s like: ‘Okay, I’m not alone in this.’” Also, the coach is there to tell you how to vary your pace and intensity and all you have to do is follow along. “It’s a different way to push yourself,” says Rodney. “Runners in my classes tell me that they run further and faster than they were capable of doing on their own.” If you can’t find a class in a gym or studio by you, consider on-demand and pre-recorded options.
One note of caution: “If you’re attending multiple treadmill classes per week it’s vital to avoid doing too much,” says Spencer. “Pick one class each week to go 100 percent while keeping the others easy—if you’re not able to hold back on easy run days it might be better to skip the class and just do the run on your own.”