The treadmill should be fear and revered. As a training tool it has the ability to really unleash your running potential, but used unwisely and without the respect it deserves it will crush you.
The treadmill provides a constant pace.
Pro – This is a great way to acclimatise your body to consistent running and pacing. If, like me, running is not your natural discipline, this is a great way to build up muscle memory and get used to running.
Con – The over-ambitious over-achieve within you will set the pace too high and the treadmill will get away from you, leaving you crushed and destroying any gains.
The consistent environment allows for focus on technique
Pro – As you don’t need to think about gradients, wind, dogs or small children disrupting your flow, the treadmill provides a great platform to work on technique, and by this I mean Cadence. Trying to change your running style (forefoot/heel strike is ineffective due to Control Entropy – further reading for the academically inclined).
Con – the consistent environment can make you a lazy runner. There is no variation, so focus drifts and technique along with it. This leads to lower cadence, poor posture, lazy arms and general bad form. At best you get a small benefit from the session, at worst your suffer injury and are out for days/weeks.
Getting the most out of a treadmill.
I smashed my 5k pb by over 4 minutes, through treadmill sessions alone, and hope to add a sub 90min half marathon to my accomplishments in the coming weeks. Here is how I did it.
Focus on the why
I am on the treadmill to improve my technique more than worry about time or distance. I am here to train my body and muscles to run in an effective and efficient manner. After that, everything looks after its self. As the SEAL’s say, Slow is smooth and smooth is fast!
Put this into practice – set a pace that is comfortable. Use a metronome to monitor cadence. I like the metronome function on my Garmin Fenix 3. there is no big overarching optimal cadence (Average runners are around the 155-160 rpm, strong runners will be 170+ and sprinters in the 180+ range, find a cadence that works for you. As you start to get comfortable at a set cadence, increase it a few rpm and start the acclimatisation process again.
Cadence trumps all – don’t fall victim to the lazy mind-set, at a slower pace I can have a slower cadence. This defeats the whole point of using the treadmill. You want to aim for your target cadence no matter the pace. Use higher speeds to help get the feeling for higher cadences, then put the feeling into practice.
Drive from the hips and lean in – if you don’t control your body position, the treadmill will! And it is ruthless = crushed! Focus on driving forward from the hips and gluts, if you were on the open road you are aiming to be ‘falling’ forward
Build time and speed with good technique – in the early weeks, don’t worry about how long or how far you are running. Focus on the quality of each session. Did you keep your cadence high? Did you have good posture? Were you loose and relaxed? Did you drive from the hips with active arms? As you are able to hold this stronger technique and higher cadence start to add more pace and distance. With good form as the foundation, the speed and distance looks after its self.
If you follow the above tips and tools you should be injury free and loving running. I have slipped up and made several of the above mistakes, been the lazy, sloppy runner, and paid the price. Here are a few tips to get the body ready for the session and life
Active warm-up with dynamic stretch – this is a great video of what I mean, 5 minutes to activate your muscles makes all the difference
Stretch the hip flexor – this is what drives you forward. As the physio said, you want a tight (not short) ITB to be the elastic, and a flexible hip flexor to give you power
Don’t forget about your feet! – This is your only contact point to the ground. Look after then and stretch them too, particularly the toes
Get the most out of the time you spend indoors so you can get the most out of your time.