Runners, why the treadmill hate? In a recent issue of Runner’s World, editors confessed they had to bribe people with swag like GPS watches to test top-of-the-line treadmills for an annual review. Polling their audience for treadmill nicknames got it no love, either. Readers dubbed it “better than nothing,” “that thing,” and “Satan’s conveyor belt.” Ouch!
Well, allow us to defend this underrated piece of machinery, because there are several science-backed reasons the ‘mill is the best place to run—especially when bouncing back from injury or avoiding one altogether.
For starters, the belt assists with leg turnover (a.k.a. how many strides you take per minute), making it the ultimate training ground for speed work. In fact, one study shows more leg turnover lessens the impact running has on your joints. And the base of a treadmill has more give compared to a sidewalk, meaning even less impact on your body: Outdoors, you’re literally pounding the pavement, which leads to a high injury rate (estimated at 66 percent annually).
The trusty treadmill is a safer spot to satisfy that need for speed. High-end models add even more shock-absorption, but the ultimate in low-impact running are anti-gravity treadmills. These don’t require blasting off to outer space, just a hop on the latest AlterG ’mill. It’s the perfect training tool for injured athletes thanks to its ability to suspend your bodyweight and any impact on joints. Cutting-edge features on other models include sensors that count your stride or a heart rate cruise control that adjusts your speed and incline to keep your heart thumping at a certain number. All this is proof that treadmills continue to get tricked out with more and more awesomeness.
So that’s the scientific reason to hop on that rotating belt, but there are plenty of practical and emotional incentives too! Here are our top 21 reasons to race in place and give the treadmill some much-deserved love.
1. You can run rain or shine. Neither snow, rain, heat, nor a freaking tornado will keep you from getting your run on. Hit us with the worst, Mother Nature! We’ll still lace up our running shoes.
2. You won’t get run over by cars, bikes, or running clubs. Nothing like a swarm of runners in half-marathon T-shirts to throw you off your stride. But on the ‘mill, your only potential collision is with a soft gym towel dabbing your sweaty brow.
3. You can still race. Anyone’s monitor is fair game for a one-sided sprint to the finish. “You’re at a speed 7? Then I’m bumping it to an 8. Eat my dust, treadmill neighbor!” is not what you should say. But feel free to think it. And while you’re at it, go ahead and imagine the trophy, speech, and parade when you “win.”
4. You can crank the tunes. No need to keep volume low so you can hear traffic (like you should while running outside). Enjoy that running playlist at whatever volume you please. After all, it’s proven that jamming out can help running time and endurance.
5. You can watch endless TV with zero guilt. Sure, butt-numbing binge watching on the couch doesn’t do a body good. But on the treadmill, Real Housewives of Whatever becomes a virtue. In fact, after four back-to-back episodes, you’ll deserve a dang award.
7. You can perfect your form. While throwing yourself approving glances, you can also check your running form. Are you standing tall with your arms at 90 degrees and knees slightly bent? This video teaches you everything you need to know in 30 seconds.
8. You can people watch. Scope out the room while you sweat. The treadmills around you may offer some real life #fitspo and lots of fitness fashion on parade. You can also catch personal trainers in action and suss out if a session would do you good—or you can steal their tips for free (we won’t tell).
9. You can run with anyone. If the treadmill had a motto, it would be: “No runner left behind.” Want to hang with a fast crowd? Jog with a newbie? At the gym, everyone can stick together without feeling peer-pressured about pace.
10. You can circuit train without scouting for equipment. Forget hunting for a park bench post-run to do triceps dips. On the gym’s treadmill, it’s hop on, run, hop off, hit the weights, rinse, and repeat. Plus, there’s zero chance the weights will be covered in pigeon poop, which we can’t say for park benches.
11. You can say you ran the ‘mill before it was cool. The humble treadmill is pegged to be a mega tread next year. But you, early-adopter that you are, were back on the belt since way back when.
12. You don’t have to obey stoplights. Translation: No bobbing from one foot to another to keep your heart rate up while waiting for the light to change. Although if you want to bob, weave, or even breakdance on the treadmill, go ahead and bust a move.
13. You can do interval training sans awkwardness. Ever wanted a T-shirt that read, “Interval training in progress”? Or a sign blinking above you that says, “My other run is a sprint”? The start-stop of doing intervals outside can feel pretty awkward. But on the treadmill, that’s part of the program—literally! It’s a pre-programmed session.
14. You feel super fast. When jogging outside, it can feel like you’re shuffling along at the pace of a small wiener dog with half-inch legs. But that’s not the case when you’re running in place—no matter your actual speed.
15. You don’t have to lug sh*t around. Water bottle? Keys? All those energy chews? There’s a cubby for each of them on the treadmill—plus way more. How civilized.
16. You can save that GPS watch moolah. No need to splurge on a fancy watch or running app that doesn’t work half the time. Treadmills track your time and distance just as well (though you’ll have to record results manually if you want to keep them). The best part: It’s completely free! So put that watch fund toward a new pair of running kicks.
17. You don’t have to worry about darkness. Running outside at nighttime requires taking precautions, like getting appropriate gear to remain visible to others. But feel free to leave your reflective tights, headlamp, and road ID bracelet in the drawer at home.
18. You can create mountains out of no hills. Even if your hometown is flat as a silver dollar pancake, you can get the benefit of running both uphill and down. Simply adjust the incline, and voila!
19. You can tap out any time. Tackling an eight-mile run and feeling wonky by mile four? If you’re running outside, you might be pondering hitching a ride home. On a treadmill, all you need to do is slap the “stop” button and your run is over—no taxi fare needed.
20. You can run an exact distance. Ever wonder why that two-mile loop in the park is registered at 2.2 miles when you check a tracking device? It’s because you’re ducking around other joggers, taking wide turns, or bouncing around at stoplights. On the treadmill, your run is tracked in a linear path. Two miles really is two miles.