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Hi friends! It’s your favorite cardio blogger Kathleen, and today, I want to talk about treadmills. I think that treadmills are the most popular pieces of exercise equipment in the world, and why not?
You don’t need to train to use a treadmill—just turn it on and start walking, running, or jogging. However, walking on a treadmill results in an unnatural gait that can have an effect on your knees. The pull of the belt on your every stride can cause overuse injury to your feet, knees, and hips.
If you’re thinking of buying a new treadmill or considering a new running regimen that would include a treadmill, then this article is for you!
Let’s talk about treadmills, our knees, and whether knee problems are inherent to treadmill running.
Table of Contents
Which Is Easier on Your Knees, Running on a Treadmill or Outside?
When the weather outside is frightful, many people decide to run indoors using a treadmill. Also, for many women, running on a treadmill at home or at the gym is safer than running outdoors.
However, many people complain that once they move to a treadmill, they experience knee pain. Why is this?
First, your gait on a treadmill is unnatural. Next time you take a walk outside or get some outdoor exercise, take a few moments to notice how you move. Do you run without stopping? Do you walk and never change your gait?
Most people move at different speeds on different types of terrain, and more than a few of us stop to smell the flowers (or in my case, pet someone’s dog).
You can’t do those things on a treadmill. You can change the speed, of course, but not as frequently as you would if you were running outdoors.
It’s also a fact that when you run on a treadmill, you run more with your toes. This puts a huge amount of stress on your knees and ankle joints.
So while treadmills might seem like the perfect answer, they can actually cause you more problems than if you ran outside.
How Do You Protect Your Knees on a Treadmill?
Just because treadmills are hard on your knees, this doesn’t mean you need to put yours up for sale.
You can protect your knees and limit knee injury by doing the following:
- Run using an incline of 3%. While we like to think that 0% is the same as running on flat ground, it isn’t. It’s more like running on a slight downhill.
- Avoid using inclines higher than 3% unless you are walking. While we all love the challenge that those higher inclines give us, they aren’t doing your knee joints any favors.
- Use common sense. If it hurts, stop training and see your doctor.
- Wear the right running shoes for shock absorption and replace them frequently.
- Minimize bouncing when running.
- Do knee exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting the knee joints. This is especially helpful for those who have knee injuries or arthritic knees.
- If you’ve tried everything but your knee joint is still feeling pain due to the repetitive nature of treadmill running, try another sport such as swimming, using an elliptical trainer, or rowing. These activities offer full-body workouts that are easy on the joints.
And never forget, everything in moderation, friends, that’s the key.
Related Post: Does Elliptical Strengthen Knees?
Is Walking on a Treadmill as Good as Walking Outdoors?
The short answer here is yes and no.
Yes, it’s nearly the same thing, and you generally work out the same muscles. You can set the treadmill at a 1 percent or 2 percent incline and get a decent workout that isn’t as hard on the knees.
However, you may not burn quite as many calories since the treadmill takes up some of the effort. You can use that 3 percent incline to help offset some of this and pump your arms (consider using wrist weights or handheld weights) to help you burn some extra calories.
Let’s not forget too that walking outside offers mental health benefits as well. Looking at nature, trees, squirrels, neighborhood dogs, and cats, and seeing the beautiful sky can help reduce your blood pressure and ease stress.
Conversely, treadmills also offer some advantages, including the relative safety and convenience of exercising on an even, cushioned running surface, away from busy streets and unfriendly weather.
Does Walking/Running on a Treadmill Put Less Impact on Your Knees?
Technically, yes, a treadmill is “softer” or causes less impact on the joints than running on concrete or rocky terrain, for example. However, it isn’t as soft as running on the grass or in the sand.
Running indoors is also pretty boring after a while, even with television (at least in my opinion). I love that my treadmill is just a couple of steps away, and if I’ve got just 15 minutes to get in some exercise, I can jump on the treadmill and get busy!
However, there is something to be said about the beautiful scenery when you run outdoors. This can help reduce stress and anxiety.
If you plan on running strictly on concrete surfaces, remember that this is a high-impact exercise that will strengthen your bones but might end up giving you knee pain in the end.
The same might be said of a treadmill. If you plan on running on your treadmill with too much incline or no incline, you’re setting yourself up for knee pain in the future.
Your best choice is to run on natural surfaces, such as dirt, grass, or sand (think beaches or lakeside!)
What Is the Disadvantage of Treadmill Running?
The evidence is that treadmills can affect how our bodies function. The belt of a treadmill pulls your foot from underneath you every time you take a stride rather than in reverse when running. Therefore, overuse injury can occur to the feet, knees, and hips.
Shin splints, ankle joints, and knee pain plague long-distance runners. Researchers have found that runners often have a shorter stride and a higher overall stride rate when on a treadmill vs running outside.
This doesn’t mean that treadmill workouts are all bad, on the contrary, if you use them properly, they can be very helpful on your weight loss or cardio journey.
Consider trying a High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout program. These are often done on alternate days which, when paired with a low impact exercise such as rowing, can help prevent injuries and help keep those healthy knees healthy.
HIIT means that you would run as fast as possible for 30 seconds to one minute, then slow down for the next 30 seconds or one minute. Treadmill users can alternate this pattern for 30 minutes to 1 hour and burn more calories than they would from regular running sessions.
Studies have found that HIIT programs can help you lose weight faster, even targeting that hard to get rid of visceral belly fat.
The Final Takeaway
There are advantages and disadvantages to both a treadmill workout and an outdoor run.
While a modern treadmill belt helps absorb some of the shock from treadmill runners, it can also put more stress on knee health.
Running surfaces outdoors can be easier and more natural, but bad weather or other issues may make running outdoors impossible.
Use the tips above to help prevent injury when you run on a treadmill. Run outside on softer surfaces whenever you can.
Moderation is the key, friends, and I can’t stress this simple answer enough.
Stay happy and keep laughing friends! Life is too short for anything else!
Written by Kathleen Langdon – TheHealthPot.com Founder
Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES)
Kathleen, a mother of two, struggled with ongoing weight and health issues. She created this website after she turned her life around. She built Thehealthpot.com to help inspire and motivate others with their fitness goals. Read more about Kathleen here.