There are major biomechanical differences between running on a treadmill compared to road running. When compared with forefoot running outside (overground running), forefoot running on a treadmill may increase contact-time and relative loads under the arch and metatarsals.
A study by Perez at el., (2013) found that loading patterns on the forefoot and midfoot differed in treadmill running vs overground running. The study also found that in fatigued state, stride length increased during treadmill running and the rate of perceived exertion was greater in treadmill running also.
Treadmill Compared to Road Running
The biggest concern with treadmill running is the overall effects it has on plantar pressure distribution relative to overground running.
The truth is, humans are specifically adapted to run overground, not on surfaces with moving belts. And not only that, there’s the period of familiarization to treadmill running which may result in an unstable and unsafe forefoot running pattern.
A strong correlation exists between biomechanical behavior and running surface in that treadmill running effects body movements, but not necessarily in a good way.
The findings are disappointing because most experimental studies use treadmill running to enhance our knowledge on biomechanics.
However, the notion that treadmill running is a representative expression of overground running is now easily disputed: treadmill running is unnatural and there is too much evidence showing differences in ankle, knee and hip kinematics as well as muscular activity compared to running overground.
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Baur et al. Muscular activity in treadmill and overground running. Isokenetics and Exerc Sci, 2007;15(3):165-71
Nigg et al. Kinematic comparison of overground and treadmill running. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1995; 27(1):98-105.
Lavcanska, V., Taylor, NF and Shache, AG. Familiarization to treadmill running in young unimpaired adults. Human Movement Sci, 2005:24(4):544-57.
Perez et al. Effect of overground vs treadmill running on plantar pressure: influence of fatigue. Gait Posture, 2013; 38:929-33.
Wank et al. Kinematics and electromyography of lower limb muscles in overground and treadmill running. Inter J Sports Med, 1998; 19(7):455-61.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.