Thursday, November 4, 2010

Treadmills: Advantages & Disadvantages

I mentioned yesterday that I was reading online about the benefits and downsides of running on a treadmill, so I thought I'd share a bit of it.

I personally think running on a treadmill is much easier.  I can jump on a treadmill after getting out of shape and run a couple miles without any problem.  However, if I head outdoors to run, I'd be out of breath about half a mile in, and then have to stop because the taste of iron in my mouth is too much on top of the side stitches I'd have.  I've always preferred running outside because the treadmill almost seems too easy to me.  Therefore, I went online to see if other people tend to find the same thing or if I'm the oddball which wouldn't surprise me.

Low and behold, I found that most other posts admit that treadmill running is easier.  Awesome, I'm not crazy!   Anyone out there like myself, after hearing this, naturally asks "why is it easier?"    Honestly, I'm not exactly sure.  My personal opinion is that the running form used on a treadmill is different enough from that of running outdoors that it uses less energy.

I've always had this theory in my head that, compared to outdoor running, a treadmill takes away a major portion of the forward motion (your push-off).  I'm sure plenty of people will say "but you have to push your body forward while on a treadmill or you will get thrown off the back."  I agree that if you stand still, you will get thrown off.  We've all seen some form of video where a guy/girl gets thrown off the back of a treadmill.  In my opinion though, the treadmill is already pushing your feet back.  All you have to do is make sure you stay up and keep your feet moving fast enough to not get thrown off the back.  Here's a test.  Next time you run (either outdoors or on a treadmill), pay attention to your push-off.  Do you push off hard?, can you feel that push in your leg?  Personally, I feel much more push-off while running outdoors.

Another reason I believe treadmill running is easier is that many people tend to run slower on a treadmill.  If you run outside, you pace yourself by your time; personally I go by min/mile.  But when you're on a treadmill, you'll go by the speed setting; I run anywhere from speed 7.5 to the max of 10.0.  I think few people know how to gauge their workout by how they feel.  Outdoors, I pay attention to the way my hip flexors and glutes feel early in a run and then my legs settle into a pace and I monitor my breathing for workout intensity level.  On a treadmill, I can go 4-5 minutes full out (speed 10.0) and still not hit a high intensity breathing level.  So for me, I have to use totally separate indicators depending on where I'm running which means outdoor and treadmill workouts are not interchangeable.

There are however benefits to treadmill running despite what may appear above to be complete bashing. 

1.  No need to bear the elements/weather.  If it's raining, hailing, snowing, or anything else you'd prefer to avoid, hop on the treadmill and you're good to go.  For this reason alone, many people use the treadmill in the fall, winter, and spring and run outdoors during warmer weather. 
2.  Pacing is automatic.  Outdoors, runners will continually check their pace during a run.  Once you set the speed on a treadmill, you just run and the machine does the pacing for you. 
3.  Softer running surface.  Personally, I am currently running on a treadmill because the minute I run on pavement, my toenail injury gets worse, but on a treadmill, I'm good to go. 
4.  Made to order terrain.  How many people have sat down to map out their run and wished they had a flatter area or maybe more hills?  On the treadmill, all you need to do is increase or decrease the incline at any moment.
5.  No downhill.  Tied into the above advantage is that you can run uphill as long as you like.  How many 5 minute hill climbs can you do outdoors without doing a single downhill?  Another aspect of this is that running downhill is torturous on your feet, so on a treadmill you can get all the benefit of the uphill without the torture of the downhill. 

I've only managed to really point out a few disadvantages to treadmill running:

1.  Preparing for a race:  Treadmills are great for keeping up fitness, but if you are running a road race, the best thing to do is get outside and acclimate to the temperature, the conditions, and the actual race terrain.  Otherwise, I bet it will be a shock come race day. 
2.  Less intense workout:  This is more of my personal opinion because I'm sure the treadmill is a great workout, but maybe for a slightly different set of muscles than outdoor running.  Either way, I get much more out of running outdoors than on a treadmill.
3.  Attention span:  This will be the complete opposite for some people, but I cannot run on a treadmill for too long because I get bored.  I prefer the change in surroundings when you're outdoors and I can run much further in that setting.

Overall, I still admit I prefer running outdoors.  I agree that treadmills certainly have their benefits and I may try to make use of those advantages in my gym workouts, but it has not converted me yet.  Now onto what I did today.

Today's Workout:
1.  Warm up: Elliptical; 1 mile forward, 0.2 mile backwards, 0.2 mile forward, 0.1 mile backwards (heart rate up to ~160)
2.  Side Pulley Lats (10 reps with 50 lb)
3.  Pulley Bicep Curls (10 reps with 40lbs/arm)
...Repeat #2 and 3 for a total of three sets

4.  Squats (6 sets of 10 with 50,70,80,90,100,110 lb)
5.  Side Lifts (10 reps with 25lb)
6.  Horizontal Straight-Leg Lifts (10 reps)
...Repeat #6 and 7 for a total of three sets
7.  Treadmill (0.2 miles [speed 4.0], 1.0 mile [7.5-9.0], 0.1 [4.0], 0.2 [10.0], 0.1 [4.0])
8.  Recline Bench Press (4 sets of 10 with 90,160,160,160 lb)
9.  Leg Curl (3 sets of 10 with 110 lb)
10.  Leg Extension (4 sets of 10 with 130,130,130,150 lb)
11.  Crunch Ups (3 sets of 10 sit-ups & 10 crunches)
12.  Side Plank Twists (2 sets of 15 reps on each side)
13.  Stretching
14.  Vertical Leg Lift (10 straight-leg reps & 10 bent-leg reps)
15.  Tricep Vertical Dip (10 reps)
16.  Pushup (10 reps)
...Repeat #14-16 for a total of 3 sets

I am really enjoying the power set at the end of the workout.  I might start using that idea more - stringing exercises together in a single set.  It feels like it gets more work out of me than doing them separately.

I may take tomorrow off depending on what I'm up to during the day, but we shall see.  Ciao!


MMMassage said...

I think this entire analysis of the pros and cons of treadmill running is well thought out. However, I would add that on most treadmills, the settings actually represent miles per hour. (For example, when you run at a setting of 10, you are running 10 miles per hour, and therefore a 6-minute mile pace. That's a very fast pace, but maintained for only 4-5 minutes, I would expect you not to hit "a high intensity breathing level" since you're in good shape.) With this in mind, you can indeed compare your speed when trail running to your speed when running indoors.

wojo said...

Thank you MMMassage!

I will have to ask about the speed and if it's in mph. I've never seen an indication, but mph would make sense. That certainly would be a highlight of how naive I am with treadmills. haha

Prior to this blog, I used to do more treadmill running and I'd work from 7.0 up to 10.0 over maybe 12-15 minutes and I still never found my breathing get too intense. Yet outdoors, I seem to settle into it within around mile 1 with a 7:00 pace (~8.5 speed). Either way, I'll be keeping track of it more in the future. We'll see what more detailed comparison I can make.