Saturday, July 23, 2011

(Not) Running on Treadmills

I've always been skeptical of treadmills. It seems to me they take away all the fun of running. (Certainly, I've never seen anyone who looks like they are having fun on a treadmill.)

That being said, they have their place. This week's heat has got me thinking that I may have to break down and resort to one if I want any exercise this weekend. As for winter, I've never been afraid to run in the cold, but then, I've never run outside in Boston in January, either. And of course, for those of us who are parents, a treadmill at home may help one to exercise and keep in running shape while fulfilling parental responsibilities.

Do you use treadmills? Do you find that a mile on a treadmill is "equivalent" exercise to running outside? (I've heard some people say that adding a 1% incline to a treadmill helps to make it more equivalent - true?) How long can you stay on a treadmill before you get bored out of your mind?


  1. I always make sure to set my treadmill to more like a 3% incline, because I've heard the same thing that it makes it more equivalent to road running, but while effective in terms of cardio conditioning, it leaves out the most important factor: change. The main difference I see is that running on the treadmill is static, without all of the little foot adjustments that you normally would do to account for running outside. So after a winter of the treadmill, taking it outside again is always an adjustment.

    It doesn't take long to get bored while on a treadmill, so you have to either find entertainment to watch or listen to, or make games out of your run. A lot of this depends on where the treadmill is located: at the gym, they have TVs set up, so I try to time winter walks during Football, Bruins or Celtics games. Movies work as well, but are more difficult since it depends on how engaging the movie is. My treadmill is downstairs in the basement and (for now) has no TV, so I typically listen to the radio (NPR mostly, but this winter i'm going to try out books on tape) or do a running meditation where I focus on my breathing and try not to think about anything. (I wrote a poem about this strange practice once - i'll see if I can dig it up, if only so you can see how loopy it can make you.) Sometimes, I buy new music albums and listen to them while I run. None of it is entirely effective - I almost never run as far or long as I would like - but you do need to do what you can during the cold months or busy times where the treadmill is the only option.

  2. Of course, I meant "winter runs during Football..." in that second paragraph, not walks. Walking on the treadmill is, IMO, even worse than running, since you can almost always walk outside regardless of the state of the weather.

  3. for the past 10 or so years prior to this particular year, i spent the colder months on the treadmill for all of my runs. needless to say, i've done a LOT of treadmill running.

    in additional to all the obvious downsides and the things you and todd have mentioned, there isn't the same level of terrain-training that your ankles need in order to adjust to longer distances. this would make it less than ideal for you, i think.

    on the plus side, it's really nice on the knees and legs in general. this means more miles more often. so, for keeping up your cardio, it's really good, or for keeping in shape/losing weight it's really good.

    an additional thing i've found with the treadmill is that it's great for speedwork too. on of the hardest things to know when you're doing speedwork is JUST how fast you're running. on top of that, ensuring you stay at that level is nearly impossible. running on a treadmill really allows you to push the limit. not that i think 6:30/mile on the treadmill is the same thing as 6:30/mile outside, but that i think pushing yourself into the red in a steady a measurable way, for a defined period of time is quite easy on the treadmill (PAINFUL, but easy).

    (i always set it at 1% incline)

    this year, i decided to buy some winter gear and brave the new england conditions during the "getting in shape" period. running in the snow is not the same thing as running in normal conditions either, but it's WAY more fun that running inside.

    i still will run on the treadmill when my mood won't accept the weather, or when i need to get a quick workout in away from home near a shower. but i will not use it as my primary winter training place (i don't think) anymore.

    funny how your summer is what forces you inside... ouch!!