Is Running on a Treadmill Bad?

Young woman running on treadmill
Woman running on treadmill (Image: Estudi M6/iStock/Getty Images)

When it comes to exercise trends, there is a lot of fluff to dig through if you want the facts. Treadmills are a hot-button topic among runners, both for their benefits and weaknesses. Running on a treadmill presents a few problems compared with other aerobic exercises, such as a slightly unnatural running pattern. Still, treadmills represent an effective way to get in a solid cardio workout without much risk of injury.

The Good News

Running on a treadmill is a common form of cardiovascular exercise for people of all fitness levels. You should strive to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day as often as possible, according to the American Heart Association. Treadmills offer an easy and relatively stress-free way to burn calories, reduce stress and manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. You never need to worry about environmental conditions affecting your exercise routine if you're using an indoor treadmill.

The Bad News

Outdoor running enthusiasts might caution you to stay away from treadmills because they represent an unnatural way of moving. Since the rubber belt essentially pulls your feet out from under you when you run, you don't have to push off as much to generate forward momentum. This affects your gait and foot strike pattern, which can affect your joints if you're used to running with a natural gait outdoors. Overall, research is inconclusive when it comes to determining whether or not treadmills are better for your joints than track running.

Optimal Incline

Although running on a treadmill may not be the ideal way to run with proper form or rhythm, you can make a few adjustments to simulate a more natural running pattern. Increasing the incline slightly to 1 percent will boost your effort and more closely represent outdoor running. Additionally, concentrating on good posture by keeping your upper body straight and landing with your feet directly under your center of gravity will make you feel more comfortable on the belt.

Mixing it Up

No matter where you decide to run, the repeated impacts of the running surface on your ankles, knees and hips will add up over time, leading to stress injuries ranging from minor strains to hairline fractures. You can avoid overuse injuries simply by mixing up your cardio routine. Aerobic exercises aren't limited to jogging; you can swim or take the bike for a spin to lessen the impact on your joints and give your tired feet a rest.

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