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Take a second look at treadmill running.

Does the idea of treadmill running seem about as exciting as sorting paper clips? Do you consider treadmill running to be your last choice for training, acceptable only during hurricanes and the deadliest heat waves? The very essence of running is to deal with and take pleasure from the outdoor elements-fresh air, hills, wind and weather, bad air, angry commuters-the whole gamut, good and bad. If this is your position, you may be missing a great tool and a positive addition to your running repertoire.

Training on the Endless Path to Nowhere

A treadmill provides an opportunity to run anytime, regardless of hour of the day or weather conditions, variables that can hamper outdoor running. For some runners, this is a major advantage in itself. Busy schedules may force you to fit your run into a time of day when you'd rather not hit the streets. But neither dark of night nor heat of day impedes the treadmill runner. It is always there, like a devoted dog, ready to run anytime you are.

If you are running to better your times and improve, the treadmill is a perfect tool to monitor progress and apply training techniques--every variable can be handled objectively. If you want to run 400-meter intervals with a 200-meter recovery, you don't have to use guesswork or find a track. Pace, distance, time, heart rate, incline angle--it's all right there on a digital display. Whether you want to Fartlek, try a mile at a new pace, drop your usual pace and increase distance, it is a simple matter to adjust any variable. And you never have to guess or cheat yourself. Whether you want to train for a 5K, or a marathon, you can monitor your training progress objectively. Even if you are an outdoor runner, it can be a good test now and then to try your pace on a treadmill.

Treadmill Zen

Running in an urban area, it can be difficult to achieve the meditative benefits of running. Losing time and place can be a challenge when you're dodging traffic, worrying about seedy characters, waiting for green lights, and sucking tailpipe exhaust. On a treadmill, it is easy to fall into a rhythm and lose yourself in the experience. Put on a set of headphones and music you love and the Zenzone can be a breeze to achieve.

Retraining after a Layoff

If you've suffered an injury or another reason for a layoff, getting back on track is always a challenge. For some, it's hard to hold back and avoid re-injury or a new injury by progressing too fast. The treadmill's greatest advantage is the ease in tracking progress and controlling variables. Choose your walking speed, and distance; add distance; increase speed within controlled limits; or add a 10-minute jog. The key is complete control.

Outdoors it may be tempting to take on too much too soon--the hill is steeper than you remembered, the turnaround point farther. Rehab training often includes the warning to be accountable to pain--if it starts to hurt, stop and drop back in your training load. If you do that on the road, you may be a few miles away from home when pain tells you to quit. On a treadmill, you're there. You don't have to add that three miles on top of a recovering injury to get back home.

Treadmill surfaces and platforms are designed to be gentler on the joints than road surfaces, so that impact forces are lower. Injury rehabilitation can be even safer than returning to road running. Treadmill running may also reduce impact forces even further when the surface is set for an incline.

Every Story has Two Sides

Reporting in Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, researchers evaluated the kinematics and biomechanics of treadmill running and determined that running on a treadmill increases the muscular demands made on hip flexors and knee extensors. The authors concluded that treadmill running might improve sprint times due to the extra effort of those key muscles. Other studies have shown that the treadmill requires a higher stride frequency because the treadmill pushes the rear leg forward and the advancing leg must plant more quickly. As a result, a faster cadence and shorter stride produces more steps per mile and the cardiovascular demands of running may be higher on a treadmill than outdoors at the same pace.

For the same reason that the aerobic benefits of running may be greater on a treadmill, it may be that injury risk is also higher--more total impact forces per mile of running. In a review of the research on treadmill walking and running, authors state that the increased frequency can be a problem for runners with biomechanical flaws. Additional repetitious steps may increase the risk of injury more than that of ground running.

Another risk of injury is unique to treadmill running. With a motorized belt beneath your feet driving ever onward--even at paces slower than sprints--one misstep can jettison your body off the back of the treadmill at an amazing force and speed. Obviously, subsequent encounters with unyielding objects like walls, other equipment, or the floor can be devastating (and really embarrassing if you're at the gym).

And there is the problem of boredom. For some, no advantage could compensate for the tedium inherent in the treadmill. So while it's not for everyone, you might want to try it out if you have avoided the machine alternative to outdoor running. It may be a tool that can move your running to the next level and you actually might love it. (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2000, Vol. 32, No. 6, pp. 1146-1155; Biomechanics, 2000, Vol. 7, No. 6, pp. 59-70.)

RELATED ARTICLE: Just in case you're dubious that treadmill training can work even for the serious runners, here's a case to silence the doubters. In one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history, Christine Clark, 37-year-old physician and mother of two in Anchorage, Alaska won the Olympic Marathon Trials in South Carolina finishing in 2:33:31, improving her personal record by 7:07. She did almost all her training indoors on a treadmill in her basement. Training at a warm indoor temperature gave her the additional advantage of being better prepared for the heat in South Carolina than most of her competitors. She was still running strong during the last six miles of the race.


In his new book Alberto Salazar, a big fan of the treadmill, provides training information for everyone from a novice exerciser starting out walking, to an advanced runner. Here is his suggested training routine for an advanced workout--you'll see why it's advanced. The session starts out with a base pace or recovery pace, that for Salazar, is a 7:03 mile pace. He then works his way down to a 5:00 mile, alternating every .12 mile with his base pace. Then he reverses the process slowing his pace incrementally with base pace recovery periods in between. The result is a Fartlek run of six to eight miles that gradually speeds up and gradually slows down, with recovery breaks all the way. Check it out and then see how to calculate your own base pace to adjust the workout if your pace is not-so-Salazar. If you keep up with the pros, take his workout as is.

To calculate your own base or recovery pace, use your marathon or 10K pace and then add 30 seconds per mile. So, if you run a four-hour marathon, which is about a nine-minute mile pace, use 9:30 as your base pace or recovery. You would start at 9:30, increase the speed for .12 mile, drop back to 9:30 for recovery then increase a little more, and so on. What you have then, is a workout that has been a challenge, and far from boring. You may find that it is easier to challenge yourself when the objectives are so concrete and your feedback is so direct. Fun, flexible, satisfying, and the potential for real results--this is what treadmill running can be--and no smog.

For more information on treadmill running, see Alberto Salazar's new book Treadmill Running and Workout Guide, 2000, Hatherleigh Press, New York, NY, 123 pp., $14.99.
Alberto's Treadmill Training Session

Speed Setting Distance

7:03/mile base .12 mile
6:58 up one .12 mile
7:03 down one .12 mile
6:53 up two .12 mile
7:03 down two and
6:49 up three so
7:03 down three on...

...continue to 5:00 miles, including recoveries, then reverse the
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Author:Newman, Carol
Publication:Running & FitNews
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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