Running inside: Things to keep in mind on a treadmill

with advice from Jeff Rothstein, MS, CSCS and Robyn Smith, PT, MS, SCS

Running inside: Things to keep in mind on a treadmill

As the first cold front crawls across the country, many people are transitioning from running outside in their neighborhoods to running inside on a treadmill. And while our experts point out that there physically should be minimal difference in your form whether running outside or inside, there are some factors that people should remember when coming indoors to a treadmill.

  1. Your terrain has evened out.

Why does treadmill running feel easier than running outdoors? “Running on a controlled surface doesn’t require your body to maneuver around obstacles as we would in the road or on a sidewalk,” answers Robyn Smith, a physical therapist at The Center for Physical Rehabilitation, a Physiquality network clinic in Michigan.

Those obstacles can actually help you avoid injury. Jeff Rothstein, an exercise physiologist at the PT Center for Sports Medicine (a Physiquality network member in Akron, Ohio), points out that such changing surfaces force the neuromuscular system to react and adapt to its environment, making you aware of your running form as you move through such obstacles. He advises focusing on the feet striking the belt evenly, and keeping an appropriate forward lean, in order to maintain proper form. He also suggests adding single-leg balance exercises into your training regimen, to make up for losing such challenges to your balance in the field.

You no longer are running against the wind.

  1. You no longer are running against the wind.

Research has shown that wind resistance can significantly increase workload,” notes Jeff. “It has even been used as a speed-development tool.” And while he has worked with runners that feel they have lost speed after running on a treadmill vs. running outdoors, he and Robyn agree that simply adjusting the incline on the treadmill to 1-2% will make up for any loss of wind resistance.

  1. You are now running on a moving surface.

Both of our experts have witnessed runners changing their gait when reacting to the treadmill belt; Jeff has seen some take longer strides to “keep up” with the belt, while others have shortened their stride. Robyn points out that a shorter stride can actually be beneficial; she notes, “by landing closer to your center of mass, you decrease the force placed on your legs and feet,” reducing the wear and tear on your joints.

You are now running on a moving surface.Jeff says some runners also change their posture when adapting to a treadmill, either leaning too far forward or maintaining a stiff upright posture in order to avoid falling. Robyn suggests using a mirror or reflection in a window to maintain the slight forward lean that Jeff mentioned earlier.

If you’re unsure about your stride and/or posture, consider consulting with a physical therapist or running coach to make sure that you’re maintaining the same form you had when running outside. The changing weather shouldn’t keep you from your favorite activity, and it’s always better to consult with an expert before you develop an injury, rather than when you’re recuperating from one.

Jeff Rothstein, MS, CSCS, is an exercise physiologist and Director of Sports Enhancement at the PT Center for Sports Medicine, a Physiquality network physical therapy clinic in Akron, Ohio. A certified strength and conditioning specialist, he is particularly interested in sport-specific strength and conditioning and ACL injury screening and prevention.

Robyn Smith, PT, MS, SCS, is a physical therapist at The Center for Physical Rehabilitation, a Physiquality network physical therapy clinic with four locations throughout Grand Rapids, Michigan. Board-certified as a sports clinical specialist, she has lectured international on such topics as gait, injury prevention and ACL injuries in female athletes.


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For further reading, look through our selection of articles on running, in addition to the below links:

Reynolds, Gretchen. Finding your ideal running form. New York Times, August 29, 2012.

Parker-Pope, Tara. Finding a sustainable running form. New York Times, June 25, 2012.

Proper running techniques. Physiquality, April 16, 2012.

Preventing running injuries. Physiquality, November 1, 2011.

Fell, James S. The pull to exercise outdoors. Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2011.

Crowell, Harrison Philip and Irene S. Davis. Gait retraining to reduce lower extremity loading in runners. Clinical Biomechanics. 2011 Jan: 26(1): 78-83.

Garceau, Luke, Erich J. Petushek, Christina R. Feldmann, et al. Resisted speed development: The effect of wind speed. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010 Jan; 24(1): 1.

Reynolds, Gretchen. How to prevent stress fractures. New York Times, December 1, 2009.



The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.