After having ACL reconstructive surgery, I decided to take part in training for a half-marathon. I had completed the majority of my training on a treadmill, to ensure my knee’s safety with the even-footing that is provides. As the race drew nearer, I felt it inevitable that I will need to begin running on actual turf to prepare for the outdoor terrain. My last run on the hamster wheel was 6.5 miles at 9:40 min pace. Feeling confident, I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to run the 8-mile path at Indian Springs Metropark and get reacquainted with the perpetual pounding of running shoes to asphalt. To my dismay, I felt exhausted after what had seemed to be 4 miles but really was only 1. I couldn’t understand why I was experiencing such drastic depletion of stamina upon a mere change in scenery. After taking walk breaks, being lapped by bikers, and feeling like treadmill stats are incredibly misleading, I decided to get to the bottom of why my training hadn’t been as effective as I thought.
What Does Research Say?
According to Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist, Michael Bushell, of Coogee Physiotherapy in South Wales, outdoor running expends up to 36% more oxygen than treadmill running after factoring in wind resistenace and fluctuating terrain. He stresses that implementing the correct
biomechanics, or form/style of the runner physically, is crucial in order to increase running efficiency and optimize endurance. Through observing visible changes in a runner’s technique as they transition from indoor to outdoor running, he concluded that the treadmill actually facilitates the runner’s form, thus increasing running efficiency, whether the runner is aware of it or not.
According to Bushell, running on a treadmill forces us to take shorter steps, which produces larger knee angles, smaller ankle angles and reduces stride time. All correlating with improved running technique. Also, the position of the foot tends to fall underneath the body, which generates a mid-foot strike and invites the upper body to shift forward, working with gravity. In contrast, outdoor running tends to produce a heel-striking technique which positions the body backward, causing the runner to fight gravity. This requires extra energy from your legs to pull your body through and puts increased stress on the knees.
Bushell also notes, the treadmill belt can actually act as a boost, propelling the runner forward. This occurs when the runner’s foot falls slower than the speed of the belt. However, if the runner’s pace is faster, the runner will experience a choppier landing which can stress the joints. The belt also assists in pulling the supporting leg underneath the body which lessens the need for your body to move over the supporting leg, requiring extra energy to push off. Consequently, this creates an increase in hip extension as your foot is further behind as you transition from one foot to other, making it easier for your lower leg to come back underneath you for the next step.
Putting Research into Practice
After learning this, I executed my own “research” during my next outdoor run and was amazed at my improved stamina. During this run, I slightly leaned forward and ran with shorter strides, which kept both of my legs underneath my body and lessened the energy needed to take each step. By eliciting similar biomechanics of stationary running, my stamina increased and allowed me to coast along with minimal fatigue. 8.12 miles later, I felt triumphant.
For any endurance race that you plan to conquer, training over similar terrain will likely need to be included in your exercise routine, in order to become acclimated and prepared for race day. However, for injury rehabilitation and performing overall fitness assessments, treadmills serve as excellent options for their ability to pace consistently and provide safe, even footing.
Depending on your goals, both treadmill and outdoor running can provide exceptional benefits for every fitness endeavor. Analyze your outdoor running technique and listen to your body as you tweak your form to ensure a safe and enjoyable running experience!
Bushell, Michael. (2013) Treadmill vs Overground running: Are they really that different? The Runner’s Physio. Retrieved on June 15th, 2015, from http://runnersphysio.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Newsletter-1.pdf
Feature Photo Courtesy of runsociety.com