Don’t Make These Common Treadmill Running Mistakes

This time of year here in the northern hemisphere, it’s cold, dark, and/or wet outside, driving many of us indoors to the treadmill (or dreadmill, if you prefer) for running. Make the most of your inside running by avoiding these common treadmill mistakes.

Running Form Modifications

Running on the treadmill is definitely different from outside or on a track. The treadmill’s belt is actually helping to propel you forward, which can lead to some changes in your running form that you may not even be aware of. One common change is the tendency to over-stride, landing heel first, way ahead of your center of gravity (magazine photos often display this type of terrible running form, because it looks cool and powerful.)  Instead, focus on landing with each foot under your body, in line with your center of gravity. Imagine a plumb line drawn from your shoulder, to your hip to your ankle. [Read: Basics of Good Running Form]

The opposite of over-strinding – running with short, choppy strides – is also very common. This might be attributable to an unconscious fear of falling off the treadmill.

Try to run on the treadmill with your natural gait and stride. If it feels “off” then simply slow your pace until it feels normal. Start to increase your pace once you get comfortable.

Holding onto the Handrails

You’ve no doubt seen plenty of people on the treadmill at the gym holding onto the rails, either with their shoulders up by their ears, or hanging on for dear life on a steep incline (see the next mistake below for more on that.)

Holding onto the rails is detrimental in a number of ways. First, it forces your body into a hunched posture, which can lead to neck, shoulder and back pain. Second, it reduces your load, and removes the need to hold your body in balance. Both of these impact the effectiveness of your workout.  So let go of those rails, hold your posture tall and move naturally.

Running on a Steep Incline

It’s not uncommon to witness a runner on a treadmill set on a huge incline, holding onto the rails so they can keep up the pace and not go flying off the back. They may think this is giving them a hard workout, when in fact it’s probably going to lead to injury. Instead, keep hands off the rails entirely, lower the incline percentage, lower the treadmill speed, and only run at incline for 5 minutes or less. Avoid going over a 7% incline, as this can place a tremendous strain on hips, knees and ankles.

Maintaining the Same Pace

It’s tempting to set the speed of the treadmill, plug in the headphones, and just space out for your entire workout. But your goal should be to mimic outdoor running conditions as much as possible. When you run outside, you have wind, stoplights, and varying terrain to contend with. To bring this variety indoors, change your pace and incline throughout your run – maybe even try one of the treadmill’s preset programs for an extra challenge. This helps with boredom too!

Too Little Effort

If you can read a magazine or book and barely break a sweat during your treadmill workout, then you should put more effort into it. While every run should not be at an all-out hard pace (easy run days are important), you should be pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in order to get stronger.

Increase your pace or incline for part of your workout, or practice interval training where you run hard for a short period (one to two minutes) then walk or jog to recover for the same amount of time.

If your planned workout is an easy run, be sure to set the treadmill incline to 0.5 or 1.0 percent to mimic outdoor conditions of wind and gravity resistance. Running at 0% incline is the same as running downhill, when you combine it with the extra push the treadmill’s belt is giving you.

Before any run workout, whether on the treadmill or outside, be sure to warm up properly with some dynamic movements. Some of these, like walking lunges, can even be done on the treadmill at a very slow speed. [Read: Three Key Reasons to Always Warm up]. After your workout, cool down with 5 minutes or so of walking, followed by some static stretching of hamstrings, calves, quads and glutes.

Stay warm and dry, stay safe, and follow these tips to get the most of your treadmill run. It’ll be spring before you know it!

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