Talk with a number of endurance athletes about treadmills, and they will likely use the word, “dreadmill”. The monotony of the treadmill can be maddening to some athletes. There is no doubt that treadmill running can seem boring, but the advantages treadmills offer in training are undeniable, and are a staple of training among many Olympic and elite triathletes around the world.
There are a number of advantages to using a treadmill, but here are just a few of the key advantages:
The opportunity to be forced to hold a pace from the treadmill is probably the biggest advantage there is in using a treadmill. You are forced to hold a pace, or jump off, (or fall off), for any duration of time and at any speed you choose. There is no hiding! This builds confidence and fitness, for an ability to hold a fast pace.
Because the treadmill can be set to a consistent speed/pace, runners have the ability to improve their technique by testing the effect of the changes in gait or position they make, based on how easily they are suddenly able to stay with the speed of the treadmill. This comes from small changes in body position, head position, foot-strike, and more.
The opportunity to improve cadence by working on it specifically, especially while forced to hold a pace, is a great and important advantage. Athletes usually can move forward on the treadmill, take shorter steps, and be forced to hold a higher cadence, even at the same pace. This training of the neurological system is great for development of speed. Most athletes only increase their cadence when going faster, and that opportunity is limited in run training, due to the stress it places on the body.
Mental Focus Improvement
One of the world’s best running coaches, Bobby McGee, once told me that he loved tempo runs for his athletes, because they were very good workouts for being extremely irritating mentally, and forcing the athletes to deal with that mental fight. This ability to tolerate the discomfort of the effort, and maintain mental focus, staying in the moment, helped the athletes advance their performance levels. The fact a treadmill forces you to hold a pace, especially if doing intervals or tempo runs on it, helps to provide that mental training.
There are athletes who are able to do workouts on the treadmill while conducting phone meetings, watching their children, or listening/reading/watching important items in their work or lives. With this efficiency, athletes are able to feel more accomplished, and not make their training secondary, keeping their consistency in training and fulfillment from the hard work they put in.
The number one challenge when it comes to treadmill training is the monotony of the scenery never changing. The best way to help avoid this monotony is to break up all runs on the treadmill, providing some type of variance in what you do. This can be a simple change of pace, such as 30 secs quick, 90 secs easy or moderate, but doing often enough helps to keep you in the moment, not dreading the time still left to run.
The fact there is no airflow usually means the run sessions can become very sweaty and messy. Placing a strong fan nearby can help alleviate this. However, this heat can actually work to your advantage, especially if you’re preparing for a race in very hot conditions. It is not uncommon for some athletes to conduct workouts with treadmills in saunas, in preparation for a hot race.
Inaccurate Speeds/GPS Incompatibility
If you’re looking for a very accurate speed and distance displayed on the treadmill, most treadmills aren’t calibrated correctly, so you can’t usually count on the information displayed to be accurate, and of course, since you’re staying in the same place, you can’t effectively use a GPS watch. However, you can use a foot-pod with most GPS units, which will you to get accurate speed/pace data, along with cadence information.
Though there are some disadvantages to using a treadmill in training, there are ways around them, and a number of great advantages which can help outweigh them. Utilizing a treadmill in your future training might be the spark you need in your run training, to make that next breakthrough. Best of luck!