Sunday, December 1, 2013

Treadmill vs. Road

Part of my job as a Fitness Consultant and Certified Endurance Coach is to design training programs that help my athletes get prepared for specific endurance events. Living in Minneapolis, MN I face the challenge of helping my athletes prepare for outdoor competitions when the heart of their training might occur during the chilliest of winter weather. One question I have been asked numerous times is the comparison of training on treadmill vs. road.

There are pros and cons to running on treadmill and running on the road. My athletes that train on treadmills do so for various reasons. One of the common reasons for running on a treadmill in the prep, base, and build phases of the training season is to help your body more safety adapt to the increase in volume and intensity. There are several reasons why treadmill running can decrease risk, but the most notable reasons for running on a treadmill are injury prevention, decreased time to recover, and decrease in risk of sickness. The treadmill is a great way to prevent injury for many reasons.

First and foremost, a treadmill will provide a more forgiving surface than the typical outdoor run. The only running done outside that would offer a more forgiving surface would be that of a dirt trail, wood-chip trail, or possibly aqua jogging. Decreasing surface hardness, the treadmill allows the athlete to run without putting such significant stress on the joints, connective tissue, and muscle tissue involved in running. Some of the most common injuries runners are afflicted by involve excessive myofascial scar tissue build-up and restriction of mobility resulting in overuse injuries. Similarly inflammation and degeneration of connective tissue, specifically around joints as the knees, hips, ankles, and feet tend to inhibit runners from running pain-free. I have seen significant reduction of all of these from my own training and training of the athletes I have worked with. Commonly athletes will feel the lingering of an ailment coming on during a training session, and will misread the warning signs of the impending injury until it is too late; running on a treadmill allows an athlete to stop a workout immediately, if they sense that continued running might lead to injury, whereas running outdoors typically means an out-and-back or a loop-leaving the problem of how to get home without further exacerbating the issue. Getting home is especially a problem for runners who are increasing their distance and acquire an injury from increase in distance proportionally too fast, and find themselves a long way out without a good way home! Although running on a treadmill is not a sure way to keep injury free, it is a measure of prevention.

The second reason choosing to run on a treadmill during the build phase of your season is it will speed up recovery. Running taxes the body aerobically, but it also taxes the body muscularly. One of the ways that your body super-compensates from intense running is through the building of capillaries through which your body transports blood-thus oxygen and other nutrients your body needs to keep going, but another significant way your body super-compensates is through the tearing and rebuilding of muscle fibers. This principle of super-compensation basically means that when you exercise you tear down existing muscle fiber to rebuild it stronger; it’s only when recovery takes place that your body amazingly rebuilds. This is why a good coach will always have his or her athlete get a very good recovery, especially between very intense bouts of exercise/training. When the strain and muscular taxation is great, the body has more difficulty recovering or properly rebuilding itself. In lessening or in some cases completely eliminating the excessiveness of muscular strain from running on the road, an athlete can speed their recovery and invest in injury prevention.

The third reason treadmill running is an important training staple for the triathlete is it can prevent sickness. Although this reason might pertain more to athletes that are training at the same latitude as I am in Minneapolis, it does apply to warmer climates too. The unique benefit of running in a climate controlled environment is that you can control the environment! High levels of training from intensity and volume can stress the body to the degree that your immune system is momentarily weakened. In this disposition the body is using vital nutrients to support and rebuild itself, thus taking them out of service for disease suppression and bacterial/viral resistance. When the body is “down” so to speak, it can get kicked in the gut by a common cold, or other prevalent sicknesses putting you on the sideline for days. Another benefit from using treadmill in the way of sickness prevention is that it will help you monitor your intensity level so that you don’t overtrain or overexert yourself beyond the intensity that’s prescribed for your training session.

Some added benefits of running on the treadmill also include pace setting practice, multi-tasking capabilities, and remedy to location restrictions. When running on a treadmill there are some things you can do to make the session more similar to road running without sacrificing the benefits; one thing you will want to do is run at a slight incline. I usually recommend a 1.0-1.5% incline. This helps to simulate road running more accurately since you have to lift the forefoot some when you run outside. Another suggestion I make is to have a fan blow on you when you run. This way you can take advantage of the cooling properties that running outside gives you. Make sure to have enough water as the added wind can also cause dehydration slightly faster. A helpful pacing chart can be found at Lifetime Fitness’s resource page: (link here).

My goal is to keep my athletes informed about training and racing trends and the science behind them to help them make educated decisions. This is all to help you Train Smart & Keep Balanced.

Feel free to shoot me an email if you have questions pertaining to this article or other articles at triathloncoachk(at)

-Coach K