I have worked in the fitness industry for nearly ten years, and almost every day I encounter middle-aged adults whose long passion for running has finally caught up with them. Their backs hurt and their knees and hips ache. They can’t get down on the floor and wrestle with their grandchildren. Running is a thing of the past. Living a healthy lifestyle has finally caught up with their joints. Their treadmill could be the reason why.
The biggest stigma with the concept of the treadmill has always been that you are running on a moving surface, and thus, it is constantly pulling you back. That’s why we can run in place on them, because it pulls us back so we don’t move forward. The problem with this is that there is not a human being on the planet fast enough to plant their foot, shift their weight, and push off the deck before the belt pulls them back. If they did they would run off the front of the treadmill, right? In addition, running on a treadmill conditions a user to always have to “catch up” with the belt which results in degradation of form. Next time you see someone running down the road, watch their form. If they are “diving” forward in front of their body as they make impact with the ground, they have adapted themselves to running on a moving surface. Shouldn’t the treadmill adapt to them instead?
What if you were standing on a rug and I pulled the rug out from beneath your feet? Would your knees thank me? Probably not. When you set your speed on a treadmill, the motor moves the belt at that precise speed. Since running is a process of planting, shifting and pushing, we are constantly changing speeds on a moving surface that isn’t. This is a problem. When the belt pulls you back in-between planting and pushing, it forces your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) to go beyond your femur and kicks your tibia back. I personally think this is a huge reason why some people get shin splints on low-end treadmills, even though the treadmill technically is providing more “cushion” than running outside, even on grass.
A high-end treadmill is very consistent when you run on it. Whereas other, cheaper treadmills are designed to be spongey – to appeal to you, frankly – some specialty treadmills can provide the same amount of absorption and negative-pull for every step you take and for every user that uses it; and most importantly, save the valuable cartridge in your knee. Higher quality treadmills use a computer based program to regulate and change the belt speed up to 760 times per second depending on the weight of the user and the force of the strike on the deck. This predictability and consistency has shown to help relieve the stress on the knees and joints. Since we all run and move differently, shouldn’t the treadmill conform to the user? Why should the user conform to the treadmill?
A bio-mechanically poorly designed treadmill can certainly be stressful on the knees, hips and back. While muscle confusion shocks the unprepared muscle to achieve better results, confusing and shocking unprepared joints does the exact opposite. When you run on an intelligent treadmill that utilizes pulse-width modulation or Integrated Footplant Technology, the belt will gradually decrease in speed when you strike the deck and provide a controlled acceleration when you push off so the belt never pulls you back. This allows you to achieve your natural stride and pace.
This isn’t a technology you can touch and play with. It isn’t there to entertain you. The reasons why they do this are to prevent injury, promote endurance, delay fatigue and save the cartilage in your knees. It’s preventative.
Avoid the “big-box stores” and find a reputable fitness equipment specialty store with trained consultants that can help you find the right equipment for you. And one day, your knees (and grandkids) will thank you.
Finding a Quality Treadmill