Are Treadmills a good way to improve my running?

running training

I’ve been asked this question many times by people wishing to know the benefits of a treadmill and if they’re better or worse than running outside.


To simplify the question to a ‘better than’ or ‘worse than’ argument, robs us of the many benefits both treadmills and outdoor running offer us.


When you think about running, think about it in two buckets:

  • Cardiovascular– Heart and lung health for increased aerobic and anaerobic performance
  • Bio-machanical – Muscular adaptation and running gait for event specific performance


What does all that mean? Put simply, to run long distance you need both to work hand in hand to run a good race.


How treadmills benefit your running

Whenever I coach a client for a running event, one of the main focuses is to improve their cardiovascular performance. Building a strong heart and lungs to help increase lung capacity. This is done using an LSD approach. No it’s not a drug. LSD stands for long slow distance. Increasing the distance traveled throughout a training program forces the heart and lungs to adapt to change, thereby increasing lung capacity. This can be done through running, cycling, swimming or rowing. Any cardio activity that encourages steady state cardio over long slow distances. So the treadmill is a great piece of equipment to assist in achieving this goal.


Running on a treadmill vs running outdoors

While treadmills are great for helping increase cardiovascular performance, they’re not the best for simulating a running pattern. And this is where an outdoor run trumps the treadmill.


When you run outdoors, you’re propelling yourself off a static surface. This movement pattern recruits glutes, quads, and calves as the three dominant muscle groups. The treadmill is very different.


With treadmills, the ‘road’ is being fed to you. Your primary driver here is the hip flexor as you ‘lift’ your legs up off a moving object. So from a bio-mechanical point of view, the treadmill is not the best piece of indoor cardio equipment to help improve muscular performance (specifically related to runners and running). If you’re looking to work on quad and glute development for this event specific exercise, the best cardio machine is the elliptical trainer. This machine allows the user to push down with each step (simulating  an outdoor run while using the same primary muscle groups in the legs). It also has the added bonus of minimising impact on joints, if you’re looking to give the knees a rest during a grueling run program.


If you would like to book in for a complimentary running assessment, or perhaps you’d like a hand with your running program or your training in general, email me at


To your continued health and fitness,


John Field

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