Whether you’re training for a marathon, booking long hours at the gym or are just trying your toe on the track, running is a universal source of physical activity that most people can do. Athletes all over the world use running as a way to condition and improve heart health, strengthen multiple muscle groups and increase endurance.
Though not all of us are 10K runners, we can agree that finding the right style of running and running smart are important keys to keep in mind. That being said, there have been disputes for years as to which machines are best for runners, and if running outside is better than running indoors.
There are many misconceptions about treadmill, outdoor and elliptical machine running, but here we will lay some of them to rest.
If you’ve never seen a treadmill before, it’s an exercise machine that features a moving belt to walk or run on. It is often used to simulate outdoor running, without having to involve most natural environmental factors such as inclement weather or road hazards.
For many, it is a great source of exercise that can be done over a lunch hour, without ending up 10 miles away from your starting point. A treadmill also assists leg turnover, meaning it helps propel you to run faster without extra effort on your part, whereas running outside requires self-propulsion.
According to Susan Paul, an exercise physiologist and program director for the Orlando Track Shack Foundation, some of the soft-tissue conditioning or hardening that can occur with running on the road does not occur with treadmills because the base on a treadmill has more cushion or give than a road surface. Treadmill running is easier and as such can be great for speed work. Paul recommends using the treadmill to help run faster by speeding up the pace for short intervals and slowing it down for recovery intervals.
Treadmills can also be a worthwhile tool for course training. A unique feature of a treadmill is the ability to simulate your goal course. Many treadmills allow you to create a profile that can be used to simulate the exact course you’re training for.
One argument against treadmills is that they don’t match outdoor running in terms of bodily energy costs or the wind resistance that comes with being outside. However, a study conducted at the Chelsea School Research Centre at University of Brighton in Eastbourne, U.K. shows that a 1 percent increase in the treadmill’s grade (or inclination) can offset the lack of wind resistance and match the energy costs, effectively requiring the same effort as outdoor running.
Disadvantages of the treadmill
Of course, there are still valid cons against treadmills. If the only running you ever do is on a treadmill, you may actually be hampering your long-term development.
It can be easy to have a “set it and forget it” mentality when running on a treadmill. Many people choose to lock onto a target pace, which unfortunately doesn’t teach you how to find and maintain a pace by yourself. Consequently, the development of your internal effort and pacing instincts can become stunted.
Let’s face it, treadmill running can also be downright boring. Without new stimuli awakening your brain and keeping it alert, you begin looking at the clock every 30 seconds and become discouraged that more time hasn’t passed since your last glance. You can almost feel the finish line getting closer when you run outside too, providing a more natural sense of the distance traveled and what remains.
“When I used to run outdoors it was because being outside offered a change of scenery and allowed me to feel as if I was going somewhere, making progress with each new location I passed,” Alle’ Scott, 2014 K-State alumna, said. “On a treadmill, I would see the same parking lot for 2-plus miles … extremely boring.”
Treadmill versus elliptical
But what’s all the hoopla surrounding elliptical machines these days about? To start, ellipticals are stationary exercise machines used to simulate stair climbing, walking or running without the excessive pressure on the joints that can be caused by outdoor or treadmill running, thus decreasing the risk of impact injuries.
According to Mayo Clinic, an elliptical machine can be less stressful on the knees, hips and back than running on a treadmill. However, walking on a treadmill exerts about the same force as using an elliptical.
Additionally, some ellipticals are fashioned with movable upper body handles or poles which allow you to exercise both your arms and your legs, at the same time. Most elliptical machines can also pedal in reverse, allowing you to work your calf and hamstring muscles more than a forward motion alone does.
When using an elliptical machine, it’s important to maintain good posture to help achieve the most effective workout. Doing things such as keeping your shoulders back, head up and abdominal muscles tight can contribute to those positive results.
Regardless of which of these three styles suits you best, staying smart about your workout and your body’s limitations and needs are crucial. If you take precautions and use common sense, you’ll be well on your way to obtaining the results you’re running toward.
Lindsey Staab is a senior in mass communications. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.