When the temperatures drop, some of us start taking our running training inside on the treadmill. But do you ever wonder whether it would be the same workout as you would have if you ran outside? Besides minimizing foot injuries, being warmer and not needing to wear gloves, would treadmill running change the way we run?
Here is what Alice learned from the latest research on running mechanics. Scientists Fellin et al., Willy et al and Noerhen et al. in 2008 and 2009 wanted to find out whether treadmill running deviated from over-ground running. Results from their data and experiments would validate or invalidate the use of treadmills for Gait Analysis and Gait Training.
Their methods were to measure kinematic angles of the hip, knee and ankle joint during each phase of gait – from strike to push-off. Using special equipment they also measured the position of the body in space, along with over-treadmill and over-ground forces during the foot’s landing. To measure over-ground angles and forces, they used force plates placed in the middle of running tracks for their subjects to run over. What they found was this:
- Hip angles of bending/straightening, rotation and side-to-side motion was overlapped each other on the treadmill and over-ground graphs.
- Knee angles had a difference of 2 degrees in the side-to-side motions, but this is still statistically insignificant. Angles of bending/straightening and rotation overlapped each other.
- Ankle and foot angles of rotation and side-to-side motion also overlapped each other on the two running modes; but the foot landed with less bend (meaning a flatter foot-strike rather than a more angled heel strike) and runners tended to land with a shorter stride between each step.
- Ground reaction forces were essentially the same, though with slightly increased medial-lateral forces (side forces) on the treadmill. The scientists interpret this as increased side-to-side drift on the treadmill (ironically it is hard to run perfectly straight on a treadmill!). There were very little differences in braking force upon foot-strike, and they were deemed statistically insignificant.
The scientists and and orthopedic specialists attribute the small differences between the two modes of running as psychological effects of running on a treadmill. Runners tended to run shorter strides because of a perceived shorter runway, and on average, their feet tended to land flatter on the treadmill because runners tend to be more psychologically cautious when running on a moving belt. When the barriers of fear and cautiousness are coaxed down, runners run very much the same as if running on ground. Their results show that analyzing a runner’s gait on a treadmill would be kinematically the same as analyzing over-ground.
So, aside from the environmental factors such as wind-resistance, trails, Oregon rain, and smell of the evergreens you pass on your favorite run, you can be assured that your body is doing the same on treadmill belt in your neighborhood gym as it would as running on the Springwater Corridor.
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By Alice Holland, DPT.
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