A treadmill can be a wonderful thing to have when the weather turns nasty, you don’t have much time, or you want to take a more scientific approach to cardio/endurance training.
If the last one you were on was made at some time during the 80s, you’re in for a treat. The best treadmills are now automated and easier to use, and they contain more cool features than would have seemed possible 10 years ago. You get what you pay for, though, so take a moment to think of what you really need and expect before actually getting down to brass tacks and the pros and cons of the individual models.
Many of us have friends with “runner’s knee”, aka patellofemoral pain syndrome or, heaven forbid, actually suffer from it ourselves. Contracting this, or in fact any kind of joint injury, is one of the best ways of ruining an ambitious training program.
In most cases, the pain and stiffness more or less go away by themselves. Anti-inflammatory medication and gentle stretching may help, but the most important part of recovery is almost certainly avoiding unnecessary strain until the cartilage and ligaments are completely healed.
In the context of running, this usually means limiting the impact that’s inherent in that kind of motion:
Ideally, your treadmill’s shock absorption mechanism will be adjustable to simulate conditions ranging from running on sand (the softest) through a dirt road-like surface and up to solid concrete.
This capability means that you can choose a gentle, soothing jog when you want, but also do speed work when you need to without having to adopt an awkward gait and develop bad running habits.
Monitoring Tools and App Integration
A lack of positive reinforcement is one of the easiest ways to lose heart when improvements only come gradually. Since it’s usually more difficult to feel that you’re making progress in running than, say, weightlifting, being able to review a digital record of your performance over time can be a great help when your motivation starts to wane.
Several exercise equipment manufacturers offer their own platforms, while most can integrate with popular third-party software and fitness trackers or heart rate monitors.
If you’ve already gotten used to using one or another of these, it makes sense to check that your new treadmill supports it. Of course, you should also be able to see statistics like distance, step count, and speed in real time if you want to – this is often the best cure for Final Mile Disease.
Pre-Set Training Regimes
While it is, of course, possible to manually set factors such as incline and speed, it takes a little extra motivation to stick to a plan if you have to do this every five minutes (not to mention the inconvenience of getting yanked out of your “zone” by these little interruptions).
One of the major advantages of using a treadmill is that it offers you a controlled, monitored environment in which to practice hill running, do interval or pyramid training, improve your stride rate, or get used to a particular pace.
Moreover, predefined routines can force you to incorporate warm-up and cool-down segments so you won’t be tempted to skip these.
Most modern treadmills, at least in the medium to high price bracket, make it easy to program and save routes. Some, in fact, allow you to download profiles corresponding to famous race courses, or even the topography of any place in the world that has been surveyed by Google Maps. This leads us on to…
Beating the Boredom
The “hamster wheel” nature of training on a treadmill must be the single most discouraging aspect of getting on the damn thing in the first place. Some people might be able to enter a Zen-like trance or have fun solving differential equations in their head while running, but there certainly can’t be many of them.
Luckily, technology has come a long way toward improving the situation. NordicTrack machines, for instance, allow you to enter in any route you can think of and enjoy a virtual jog through Paris one day and Antananarivo the next. At a minimum, you can expect a feature such as an integrated sound system, which is a wonderful thing if you find earbuds irritating.
Depending on your living arrangements, this factor will be either crucial to you or totally irrelevant. Some treadmills fold up when not in use; some don’t. Some are portable enough to stick in a closet; others are too solidly built for a single person to move. On a related note, where you’ll end up using the thing also determines how much noise you can tolerate – this is one area in which different manufacturers have very different design philosophies.
Although this is often more of a psychological issue than a real danger, a narrow or too-short running surface, or one that feels unstable at high speeds, can make anyone a little nervous.
Using a treadmill can indeed lead to injury, especially if you set the speed or incline too high for comfort, or do something enormously stupid:
Most people who are new to treadmills start out a little anxious and disoriented, but soon learn to relax as they discover that running on a belt is 95% the same as running on pavement.
Of course, courtesy of the angel Murphy, this kind of confidence and familiarity can itself lead to accidents. If you’re unable to try out a prospective purchase yourself, make sure to read a few reviews from people who do have access to the treadmill you have in mind.
The actual risks aren’t outrageous compared to, say, running in traffic, but it’s worth keeping them in mind, especially if children will have access to the treadmill.