Did you hear about the guy who drove around in circles to get a parking space as close as possible to his gym, just so he could spend the next hour running under artificial light on a treadmill? That sort of absurdity typifies the problem with treadmills. People will forego the real thing in order to maximize their time on a less efficient substitute. Yes, you read that right – less efficient. Here’s why treadmills can never keep pace with real outdoor running.
1. Flat Surface: Running on a flat surface may be more comfortable but it’s not stimulating your muscles nearly as much as the undulating, uneven surface you encounter when running outdoors. The constantly changing terrain and slope provide an ongoing challenge to your calves and thighs. Just makes sure when running outdoors that you stay off the pavement and asphalt, as it can be jarring on your ankles and knees.
2. Inefficiency: Running on a treadmill is not nearly as effective as taking to the outdoors. In fact, running 100 meters on a treadmill uses 36% less oxygen than going at exactly the same pace for the same distance outdoors. On the treadmill, the belt is revolving beneath you. In addition, the wind resistance factor that comes with running outside is missing. When you run outside, the legs have to do the job of moving you forward that the treadmill motor is doing. It’s simply a lot easier to run on the treadmill – and when you’re trying to get fit, easier is not better.
3. Boredom: Can you imagine anything worse than trudging along under artificial light, staring mindlessly at a blank wall (or, even worse, daytime TV) as you get absolutely nowhere. Compare that to taking in the beauty of nature while breathing in fresh air, absorbing life giving Vitamin D from the sun’s rays and enjoying the calming effects of a cool breeze. Motivation is a major factor in exercise success – and nothing kills motivation faster than boredom. The inane monotony of the treadmill may just have something to do with the less than encouraging fact that 80% of all gym goers in the US quit within six weeks of joining a gym.
4. Low Intensity: A raft of studies have confirmed that the long, slow cardio type workout that is typified by running on a treadmill is not an efficient calorie burner. It is light years away from the high intensity interval training which is used by many outdoor boot camp instructors to ramp up the calorie burn while enjoying the beauty of the outdoors.
5. Knee Problems: The knee is comprised of a complex combination of ligaments and tendons that act to keep your leg muscles connected and functioning. Runners commonly suffer a knee injury referred to as runner’s knee. It is characterized by a dull pain above the knee cap. Unless you are running on a top quality treadmill, the limited shock absorption that happens every time you touch down on the running bed will exacerbate runner’s knee.
Knee injuries can also result from going directly to a challenging running speed. If you do not start slow and build up the speed before you have adequately warmed up, you are setting yourself up for major knee problems. You are never too busy to properly warm and cool down on the treadmill.
Overtraining on the treadmill can also lead to problems with the knees. Due to its low intensity and any weather availability, there is a tendency to do too much on the treadmill. This, however, may cause stress to the tendon and ligaments that make up the knee. The incline function on the treadmill can also lead to knee injuries. A study out of the Ohio State University Medical Center showed that ongoing treadmill running on an angle can lead to patellofemoral stress syndrome. When you run on the treadmill at an angle you allow less freedom of movement in the ankle. This makes the knees work harder to get the job done.
To avoid knee injuries it is imperative that you run with proper form on a treadmill. Poor form can lead to, not only knee injuries, but also twisted feet or legs. You should, therefore, always run with as upright a posture as possible. Your arms should swing freely and your torso should be relaxed. Avoid the tendency to step ahead of your center of gravity. This will make you more prone to knee injury. Avoid landing on the toe or the heel. Rather, you should land on the balls of your feet. This will make it possible to distribute the shock of landing evenly across the foot. You should maintain a slight knee bend throughout your entire running motion.
6. No Pacing: When you jump on the treadmill, the computer is doing all of the work for you. You don’t have to find you pace and maintain it. The problem here is that your pacing and race dynamic instincts are not developed. If you are a competitive runner, this will definitely affect you on race day, where split second pacing is crucial to a podium placing.
7. No Upper Body Component: The treadmill will work your lower body and your cardiovascular system. There is no upper body involvement. Compare that to other cardio room staples like the elliptical machine and the rowing machine. When you use those machines you’re working out the muscles that the treadmill hits, but you’re also working your back, arms and pectorals. When it comes to the big three cardio movements, then, the treadmill is the least efficient. You can hit both the upper body and the lower body with better exercises! For cardio, the treadmill is by far the least efficient.
The Bottom Line
Treadmills are inefficient, boring and ineffective. Running outdoors is always the better option. So, while treadmills may provide a handy warm-up to your gym workout, don’t rely on them as part of your fat burning equation. The smarter way to go is to head down to the park and get back to nature.
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