Many of us are becoming more health-conscious, and are aware that we should be doing some exercise as well as eating properly. As a result, treadmill use has increased significantly over the last decade. It is the most popular type of gym machinery, and many people even have a treadmill in their homes.
However, there is a quite a lot of discussion regarding the potential risks of using a treadmill. Some runners feel that it is better to run outside, while others appreciate the kind of exercise that a treadmill facilitates. This article examines the pros and cons of using a treadmill versus running outdoors.
Risk of basic injuries
One of the most common treadmill injuries is actually the result of a lack of common sense: stepping off the treadmill while it is moving. Whether you want to fetch a drink of water or change the TV channel, you should always stop the treadmill running belt before stepping off and on. Many of those who fail to do so have slipped and done some serious damage to themselves. There is also a risk of getting your hand or fingers caught in the narrow space between the moving belt and the machine itself.
Running outdoors does not entail such risks as there is no complicated machinery involved; however, there is always the possibility that you might stumble and fall onto the hard pavement, which can be just as dangerous.
Finding an appropriate running speed
Using a treadmill, it is important to find a speed that it most suitable for you. If you set the speed too low, you are likely to run with shorter steps, risking stumbling or causing pain in your calves. Setting the speed too high, however, can also be problematic, as it puts your muscles and joints under too much pressure to keep up.
Outdoor running has the advantage here because you tend to run at your “natural” speed. You can go faster or slower depending on how your legs and body feel, whereas on a treadmill changing speed will involve adjusting the program, which can be difficult to get right.
Potential damage to knees
Running of any type is potentially troublesome for our knees. Knees are a notoriously complicated and delicate part of the body, and they act as the main “shock absorber” between our body and the surface we run or walk on. If your thigh muscles aren’t strong enough, the tendons and ligaments that run through the knee will be put under additional pressure. This can eventually lead to “runner’s knee”, in which a constant, dull pain is caused by cartilage grinding against the kneecap.
While the risk of damage to knees is common to both treadmill and outdoor running, most treadmills come with built-in shock absorption systems, which reduce the pressure felt by the ligaments. In contrast, rough outdoor terrain increases the impact on the runner’s knees. In my area, Dick’s Sporting Goods often has treadmills with a nice amount of shock absorption on sale throughout the year. Orthotics can also reduce some shock absorption while running.
This final point is entirely subjective, and requires the runner to think carefully about the type of environment in which they prefer to run. Running outdoors is less monotonous: there is changing scenery, fresh air and the opportunity to vary your route. Although running outdoors requires greater concentration in order to maintain a consistent pace, many runners attest to the sense of freedom it gives them.
Running on a treadmill involves remaining in a confined space, with little stimulation. There is no fresh air, and the sensation of constantly pounding on a rubber belt can become very boring. However, many people prefer the fact that a treadmill sets the pace and challenges you to keep up, meaning that unconsciously slowing down is not a possibility, as it would be outdoors. Running on a treadmill absolves the runner of having to find a suitable running route, and the controlled indoor environment means that variables such as weather and temperature do not have to be considered.
Running, whether on a treadmill or outdoors, carries the risk of injury at all times. The treadmill may have the advantage in terms of helping to prevent damage to the knees, but factors such as the pace and incline settings must be carefully considered, lest you do damage to other parts of your body. Running outdoors has the benefits of a varied route and fresh air, but it may not always be easy to find a viable running path, and the weather can be an unpredictable hazard. Ultimately, runners should weigh up the factors that they consider to be most important in their exercise regime, and decide accordingly.