Sports & Fitness

Treadmill vs. Ground Running: How Does It Affect Foot Health?


working out running treadmill

The debate about the best way to run – on a treadmill or outside – has been going on for years. Can one be replaced by the other, which is safer for the feet, are there fundamental differences? Outdoor running allows you to move in constantly changing conditions and on different surfaces, engaging more muscle groups and allowing you to spend more calories as a lot of energy is expended. At the same time, the treadmill is a safer alternative when complying with the technique, forced to maintain a given level of speed and load, which is not always possible on the street.

There is no single answer to the question. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages based on the individual training needs and goals of the person. These methods can be combined or one can be chosen based on one’s capabilities and physical condition.

Where It’s Easier and Better to Run

If you put in the same effort, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re working out at the nearest park or on the track. It’s believed that while running on the track does not take into account wind resistance, the performance on it will be higher than on the street. But a study by A. M. Jones and J. H. Doust proved that running on an exercise machine with a 1% increase in treadmill incline and at more than 10 km per hour makes absolutely no difference. And yet, there are real advantages to running outside: you spend more energy to overcome different weather and road conditions and get your body better pumped, while the track does a huge amount of work for you.

Technically, when you run on the track or on the street, different biomechanics of movements are created. When you run on the track surface, the cadence – the frequency at which an athlete touches the ground – increases. Because of this, the time spent in the air is shorter and the impact load is reduced, and therefore the risk of injury is lower. A 2013 study by Van Caekenberghe, Veerle Segers and co-authors found differences in the acceleration of athletes: on the street, the biomechanics of the runner adapts to acceleration, while on the treadmill, the same adaptation does not occur. Scientists have not agreed on whether this is a good thing or not.

Pros of the treadmill:

  • There are no weather or temperature restrictions.
  • It is possible to control the pace of running and simulate different conditions (running with a slight slope, uphill, on hills. Due to the adjustable pace, the treadmill is preferable for training after an injury.
  • Convenience: you can train at home or in the gym, there is no danger of getting caught in the rain or snowfall, experiencing exhaustion or dehydration from the heat, getting sunstroke, etc.
  • This kind of running is easier on the joints. Treadmills provide better shock absorption than regular pavement, which means less stress on the ankles and knees.
  • It’s possible to run alone, watch a movie or program while running, enjoy betting, and even flip through a book.

runner knee sleeve

Cons of the treadmill:

  • Running uphill is not possible.
  • You can’t make turns.
  • It can be boring. The picture before your eyes is always the same. For short interval runs or speed workouts, treadmills are good, but with hours of training, the monotony can get tiring.

Moreover, running on a treadmill can seem harder. Both of these points are supported by meta-analysis data. Most runners choose a slower speed on the track if they are asked to run at the same speed as outdoors. This is because the airflow is directed at the person outdoors, creating a sort of obstruction and cooling. And outdoors, the surrounding scenery changes, so it’s not as boring, which means it seems easier.

There’s also a risk of injury. According to the CPSC, there are more than 24,000 injuries associated with running on a trainer each year in the United States: falls, sprains, head bumps, cardiovascular problems in people who exceed their exercise tolerance. Still, the number of injuries sustained by outdoor runners is much higher.

To avoid foot and joint injuries, remember the safety rules for running:

  • Gradually increase the load and speed. Try to walk or run on the simulator as if you were on the street. Your task is to avoid overload and stress. Exercise should be fun, not exhausting!
  • Be careful with your speed. Breathe evenly, avoid shortness of breath and overly fast pace. Remember that when running outside, the pulling power of the calf muscles is stronger and the cushioning is better. If you’ve been training on a treadmill for a long time and then decide to run outdoors, there’s a great risk of straining shin ligaments, developing plantar fasciitis. Do long and high-speed workouts outside, watch the pace, alternate its intervals, so as not to injure your legs. You can also alternate running with walking or walking uphill to soften the impact load.
  • Before any run, warm up all the muscles and major joints of the body. Do simple exercises: squats, leg and arm swings, lunges, running with high knees, jumps, lifts and circular movements of the feet.

Shoes for working out

What Shoes to Choose for Running

Wherever you decide to run, pay special attention to shoes. Only special sneakers for running, selected taking into account your features: the level of fitness, foot condition, weight, the place where you are going to run, weather conditions, etc., will suit you. It’s advisable to go to specialized stores and measure sneakers, enlisting the help of an experienced consultant. Athletic shoes:

  • Should be made of quality breathable materials.
  • Must be comfortable.
  • Must absorb shocks well when running.
  • In some cases (e.g. overweight or running on uneven natural surfaces), must be supplemented with reinforced cushioning.
  • Should take the climate into account. Lightweight sneakers for running on dry paths in summer or in the gym are not suitable for late autumn and winter, when warmth, dryness and good grip are paramount.

Often, the highest quality sneakers aren’t enough to protect your feet and joints from stress. Individual orthopedic insoles that protect the foot, ankle and knees from injury, make running more stable, and support the foot in the correct position can help. The insoles are made by podiatrists and can be adjusted while you wear them. They give stability, comfort and do not allow the development of flat feet and other musculoskeletal disorders.

Competitive Sports Sprint Race Run


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