Running is the most natural aerobic exercise one can perform. We all learn to do it as children, but most of us give it up as we grow older.

If you are thinking of ways to reduce the monotony of a work-intensive lifestyle, consider taking up running again. Not only is it a great way to get back to a healthier way of living, but the runner's high will also help you to reduce stress and increase your levels of happiness.

With a controlled diet, running is an exercise that helps with the overall mobility of the body, frees up muscle tension that can build up as a result of a sedentary life and generally produces happiness hormones through exercise.

Making a habit out of running, however, isn’t easy. A key choice that every runner needs to make is that of running surface: if running on the road isn’t possible for you due to climatic conditions, pollution or lack of a decent enough stretch, running on a treadmill can be the next best thing. This is an extremely important decision as it can help you avoid running injuries like stress fractures, shin splints and plantar fasciitis.

However, there are several arguments for and against running on either surface. Those accustomed to running long distance usually find themselves training on the road; those used to playing sport or running for leisure, find running on the treadmill to be more convenient. Here, we examine the various arguments about running on a treadmill.

Read more: Mistakes to avoid before going for a run

  1. Benefits of machine running
  2. Side effects of treadmill running
  3. Things to keep in mind for treadmill running
  4. Takeaways of treadmill running

For some, a treadmill run can feel like a restricted amount of movement that doesn’t allow the runner to challenge themselves. But the activity, even when performed on a treadmill, has its own advantages:

  • All-weather: A treadmill is almost always kept indoors and allows you to train at any time of the day and regardless of the weather conditions outside. The hot sun, heavy rain or biting cold do not affect the runner whatsoever.
  • Away from the effects of pollution: Developing countries like India have unusually high levels of air pollution around the year, making running outdoors quite a challenge. Running on a treadmill saves runners from breathing in the toxic air.
  • The same or higher level of difficulty as road running: They say you can’t run as fast or as long while running on the treadmill. On the contrary, a treadmill is great at simulating the conditions you want to be running in. A treadmill set on a 1% incline can perfectly mimic running on the road by making the run a lot more intensive.
    Further, manual treadmills can be set to a very high resistance - this can increase the load on the legs to strengthen these muscles.
    Most electronic treadmills also come with options to increase elevation and speed, and with in-built programmes to reap the benefits of HIIT (high intensity interval training) type training and other protocols for fat loss, muscle tone, etc.
  • Maintains joint health: Running on a treadmill can preserve the health of your joints, especially as you grow older. Running on the road can be quite intense on the ankle, knee and hip joints, as the roads may be uneven and littered with stones and other debris. A treadmill run has lower chances of causing joint pain.
    Many of us also have poor gait while running. For example, we may invert or evert the foot too. Running on a treadmill, especially with a trained professional, can help you improve your gait and make small adjustments to your form to avoid a repetitive strain injury.
  • Helps you run faster: A treadmill is a great apparatus for building running endurance by simulating outdoor conditions, allowing you to run faster and be able to sustain those speeds for prolonged periods.
  • Safe: Road traffic and overall safety is a major concern in various places, making running on a treadmill a far safer option, allowing you to continue your training without having to worry about your physical well-being.
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While there are several advantages of running on a treadmill, there are flipsides to it as well:

  • It can be boring: Running on a treadmill means you are running on a stationary object, making longer training periods rather boring. Running outdoors has the benefit of being able to come across different terrain and scenery, allowing you to indulge in nature and take in all that it has to offer.
  • Operated by electricity: Most modern-day treadmills are powered by electricity, meaning one has to rely on stable electricity supply in your neighbourhood or city. Frequent power cuts or a gym without power back-up can put a spanner in your training efforts.
  • Builds less agility than outdoor running: The assisted nature of the treadmill doesn’t allow you to take in or feel the natural surface of grass or a road under your feet, which means it doesn’t help build a sense of balance or stability in your body.
  • Less muscle development than outdoor running: Again, thanks to the nature of the "assisted" run, the muscles in your legs and glutes aren’t made to work hard enough on a treadmill. The same equipment that saves you from aches and pains in the joints, however, has a negative effect on the growth or strengthening of your hamstrings or glutes.
  • Fewer challenges than outdoor running: Indoor areas cannot take into account wind resistance which means your performance isn’t truly indicative of how you would fare on a run on the road. Also, the speed that is indicated on the treadmill is often wrong, casting misconceptions about your own performance. In short, the assisted nature of the treadmill isn’t a true reflection of your physical ability, as you run along whatever speed the treadmill is set for.
  • Risk of injuries: If you thought running on the road alone would cause injuries, think again. The surface of the treadmill can have an adverse effect on any pre-existing physical condition you may have, which can aggravate running injuries. Flat footed individuals or those with a prior case of knee or ankle problems can go on to develop more serious problems.

While there are numerous pros and cons of treadmill running, there are ways to maximise the impact of treadmill runs and make the most of your training indoors:

  • Do not hold the rails: A lot of people have the habit of holding on to the grab-rails on either side of the treadmill while they are running, which isn’t helpful. You do not hold on to things while running outdoors, and this practice only allows you to keep up with the pace you have set. Instead, focus on slowing down and speeding up when you feel like you can.
  • Challenge yourself: Gently walking around on a treadmill doesn’t help you either. Fix a time for your treadmill run and play with the controls available: pick the speed up from time to time, increase the incline of your run to make it more challenging and change things around to make it more enjoyable.
  • Don't jump off: Gym-goers also tend to hold onto the rails on the side and move off a moving treadmill to catch a break. This is dangerous. If you need to stop, do what you would do in real life: slow down gradually to avoid putting yourself at risk of injury. If you need to stop suddenly for any reason, hit the stop button that is present on most modern-day treadmills (make sure you find out where it is before you start running).
  • Do sports-specific training: Treadmills are great to train for other sporting activities and building endurance. Short bursts of running for specific sports, especially in the off-season, allows you to continue training for your main sports.
  • Run naturally: Some runners tend to get carried away by the constantly moving surface of the treadmill, and try to match the speed of the surface in order to keep up with it rather than focusing on their running technique, eventually ending up either shortening or increasing their stride. Instead, focus on your neutral running technique, slow down and speed up according to your comfort.

Read more: How to improve running stamina

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Like most physical activities, treadmill running has its share of benefits too. It is a great tool to keep up with your fitness activity even during poor weather conditions. Plus, it has the same cardiovascular and weight loss benefits as outdoor running.

Both running outdoors and indoors have different approaches, benefits as well as drawbacks to them. The ideal training method, however, is a mix of both - running a few days a week outdoors, training on the treadmill on other days, alongside performing specific workouts to strengthen the muscles that get tired after several hours of running.

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  2. Van Hooren B et al. Is Motorized Treadmill Running Biomechanically Comparable to Overground Running? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cross-Over Studies. Sports Medicine. 2019 Dec; 1179-2035.
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