How to Make a Treadmill Comparable to Road Running

running on a roadTraditional treadmill training and outdoor running each have unique advantages. At the same time, home treadmills are gaining ground even among diehard outdoor runners. People are discovering that it’s possible to simulate outdoor running even better than they thought. The following information can help runners reap the biomechanical benefits of outdoor running – and without the traffic hazards, smog, and inclement weather.

Treadmills vs. Ground Training: Three Primary Differences

Three main factors can make outdoor training more challenging, and thus more effective, than treadmill running: treadmill momentum, wind resistance, and uneven terrain. Steps can be taken to overcome each of these training differences and make treadmill use even more effective.

Step 1: Adjust for the Treadmill’s Momentum

Obviously, a moving treadmill belt makes running easier by propelling a person forward. Studies show that runners can compensate for this motion by setting the treadmill to a 1% incline.

Step 2: Adjust for Wind Resistance

Some people expend less energy when running on a treadmill than when running outside because they don’t adjust for wind resistance. Although the effect of wind resistance varies with running speed, it typically increases a runner’s workload by 2% to 10%.

Some trainers recommend compensating for this discrepancy by simply adding another 1% incline to the treadmill. Others recommend taking a more tailored approach: they advise altering the treadmill’s incline and speed until the runner “feels like” they’re running outdoors. A heart rate monitor can be used to confirm that the required exertion level is appropriate.

Step 3: Adjust for Terrain Changes

When a person runs outdoors, the terrain can change with every step they take. Compared with running on a flat treadmill surface, running along a hilly path or moving from asphalt to grass stimulates more muscle fibers.

One simple way to make up for this difference on a treadmill is to be more aware of one’s body. By being consciously aware of body position and motion, a runner can get a greater return from each stride. Some runners deliberately alter their stride length to target different muscle groups.

Another way to stimulate different muscle fibers is to use a treadmill’s interval training programs and other preset workouts that simulate running up hills. Some treadmill tracks can also operate on a decline. Examples include certain Precors and LifeSpan’s TR2000.

NordicTrack’s Incline Trainers, which also have automatic inclines and declines, are especially fun to use with iFit Live. This technology uses Google Maps to automatically adjust the treadbelt’s slant in accordance with virtually any real-life route. Combined with streaming visuals on a full-color screen, it’s a prime example of how treadmill running is getting closer than ever to the outdoor experience.

4 Comments

  • Bill March 9, 2019 at 9:17 pm
    A treadmill propels someone forward?
    • Amanda B. March 12, 2019 at 10:06 am
      Hi Bill. A treadmill will definitely give you more forward movement than running outside due to the fact that you are running on a moving surface versus ground. If you are looking to simulate more of an outdoor run I would recommend varying the incline throughout your run.
  • michele sganga April 8, 2019 at 8:29 am from Italian (living in Oman)
    Hi Amanda, this topic is extremely interesting and in my case a bit crucial. I live in Oman where the temperature is generally so hot that running outside it is not possible for several months. For this reason I purchased a Nordic Track 4000 treadmill. It is nice but I still did not find a way to compensate few issue. First of all the movement of the treadmill reduce the effort of the calf muscle . I noticed it because after running few outdoor session their shape get immediately stronger wile on the treadmill they are a bit inactive . Secondly I cannot find an equation to validate my indoor performance with the one outside. It is always harder running outside and I was tempted to increase the slope on the treadmill up to 4% but I do not know it is a correct idea. Thank you !
    • Amanda B. April 8, 2019 at 3:49 pm
      Hi Michele, thank you for sharing your experience! Definitely increasing the slope on the treadmill will help build your calf muscles. While a treadmill is not going to be the exact same as running outside there are definitely options to make it comparable such as increasing the incline. You can start small and gradually increase it as your muscles get stronger. With a treadmill there are different elements that you can avoid that affect your running performance that you would experience outside such as weather. We hope you continue to enjoy your machine!

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