Running on a Treadmill – Should New Forefoot Runners Do It?

Running on a treadmill may be a barrier to performance and injury prevention for forefoot running learners.

One of my biggest mistakes when I began my forefoot running journey was that I was strictly a treadmill runner and I experienced more downs than ups in that I persistently suffered shin pain. My shin pain eventually disappeared the more I ran outside. I also felt like I was braking more when I ran on a treadmill. So just be really careful on the surface you choose to run on, and my conclusion is that for forefoot runner beginners, running overground is safer than treadmill running.

Running on Treadmill - Should Forefoot Running Learners Do It?

Running on a Treadmill – Should New Forefoot Runners Do It?

If you are a newbie forefoot runner who runs on a treadmill regularly and has experienced injuries, you might want to consider running overground from now on.

Overground running is safer than treadmill running because it promotes knee flexion and an important feature of forefoot running is knee flexion.

  • increased knee flexion is a deceleration mechanism of the body that reduces loading on the leg, especially at faster speeds
  • knee flexion provides a cushioning effect at forefoot strike
  • treadmill running decreases knee flexion, meaning the knee is straight and stiff at foot strike, absorbing less shock

In addition, running outside makes us more likely to work harder because of wind resistance and surface irregularities which challenges our stability. Numerous studies have found that more energy is required to overcome air resistance when running overground as compared with treadmill running.

Although, setting the treadmill at 1% incline is enough to compensate for the metabolic cost of overcoming air resistance, running on a treadmill diminishes the likelihood of maintaining ankle strength compared with running overground.

Definitely Refrain From Sprinting on a Treadmill

Forefoot running is for faster running speeds, however running fast on a treadmill was found to be unsafe.

Riley et al., investigated the effects of treadmill and overground running on sprinting mechanics and found that treadmill runners consistently landed flat-footed and not forefooted.

In sprinting, a forefoot strike is the proper foot strike and allows a higher turnover, minimizes braking and contact time, and most importantly reduces the ground reaction force.

Because the treadmill is a deterrent of a forefoot strike at faster speeds, sprinting on a treadmill poses substantial dangers that can be easily avoided by running overground.

The Take Home Message

Instead of putting yourself in harm’s way, avoid forefoot running on a treadmill and stick to the roads and trails. Because overground running is more deeply rooted in our evolution, running outside allows a runner to carry the prime directive of forefoot running: proper lower extremity joint flexion.

For more tips on learning forefoot running, check out my other articles on how to run forefoot right do it right!


References:

Bassett, DR Jr, Giese, MD, Nagle, FJ, Ward, A, Raab, DM, and Balke, B. Aerobic requirements of overground versus treadmill running. Med Sci Sports Exerc 17: 477–481, 1985.

Jones, AM and Doust, JH. A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running. J Sports Sci 14: 321–327, 1996.

Leger, L and Mercier, D. Gross energy cost of horizontal treadmill and track running. Sports Med 1: 270–277, 1984.

Riley et al. A kinematics and kinetic comparison of overground and treadmill running. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2008; 40(6):1090-100.

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

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.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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