How to Run on a Treadmill

How to Run on a Treadmill
There’s no doubt that running on a treadmill is a bit different than running outside but, if done properly, treadmill running can have just as many benefits (if not more) than running outside. One of the great positives to treadmill running is that it is safe! No uneven terrain, no need to be worried about running in the darkness of an early morning or evening, no icy patches or bad weather concerns. “But what about all of those nasty treadmill spills I’ve seen on YouTube?” you ask. Well, as painful (and funny) as those are to watch, a good majority of those are due to user error and not properly following treadmill protocol … like trying to jump on a treadmill that’s already cranking at 10 mph! So whether you’re making the transition from walking to running or are simply looking to move your running workouts indoors, here are a few tips that will make your treadmill running more effective, enjoyable and safe.

Tip #1: Be sure to incorporate a warm-up:

While it can be tempting to just hop on the treadmill and crank-up the speed, keep in mind that your body needs to acclimate with a slow, easy-paced warm-up for 5-10 minutes. Depending on your fitness level, this can be a fast walk at a slight incline or a slow jog.

Tip #2: Add a slight incline

By adding a slight 1-2% incline to your treadmill, you’ll better simulate running outdoors. Running on a flat incline is similar to running down a slight decline outdoors. This will often cause runners to over-stride and lose their natural running form.  

Tip #3: Think incline before speed

As you get more comfortable and begin to improve on the treadmill, the natural tendency is to want to increase the speed at which you run. While this may seem like a natural progression, try bumping up the incline a notch or two. Studies show that this is a better way to challenge the body to work harder on a treadmill as opposed to cranking up the speed and potentially sacrificing good form. Be careful, however, not to go too steep with that incline as it can lead to lower leg injuries to the Achilles or calf. If it doesn’t quite feel right, be smart and back down a bit.

Tip #4: Do not hold on when running

Those nice handrails that treadmill manufacturers put on are meant to be used to safely get on and off of the treadmill, not to hang onto for dear life as your legs try to keep up with the moving belt! If you feel a need to hang on when running, you’re definitely going too fast. Try to use proper running form by keeping your arms at a 90 degree angle and your shoulders relaxed. Many beginning runners will complain of pain and soreness in their upper shoulders/trapezius muscles after a run because they are not relaxing that area and are running “tense.”  

Tip #5: Focus on your stride

Running outdoors requires you to push off the ground to propel yourself forward. Treadmills are just the opposite as the ground is moving for you and essentially pulling your feet back. First time treadmill runners often run with shorter strides, so think about reaching the foot forward and striking with the ball of your foot to help lengthen your stride. If you feel you are leaning forward, your stride is probably too short. Keep your body upright and focus on a good stride forward.

Tip #6: Stay hydrated

You can lose more water (sweat) running on a treadmill vs. running outdoors where you have the outdoor air naturally help cool you and evaporate sweat. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after your runs. It’s also a good idea to keep a sweat towel handy so you can use it to wipe down your face and arms if you’re a heavy sweater. Don’t forget to also wipe down your treadmill after your run as sweat can do a lot of damage over time – plus it’s just proper treadmill etiquette!  

Tip #7: Cool down

Just like a good warm-up is essential in getting your body warm and ready to run, a proper cool-down is important to let your elevated heart rate slowly come down (try to get it under 100 bpm before getting off). The cool-down also helps prevent dizziness and that strange feeling that you’re still moving once you get off the treadmill. Happy running! About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.