It’s much harder to have good running form on a treadmill than on solid ground. The lack of wind resistance changes your muscular effort and balance, the console and handrails interfere with your movement, the visual, auditory, and vestibular sensory signals don’t match up with your movement, the TV is distracting, and the threat of falling off a cliff—i.e. the back of the treadmill—lurks behind you.
It’s a frankly difficult and unnatural experience.
However, it is actually possible to have good—even great!—running form on a treadmill, and learning how will make you a better runner on solid ground as well.
What It Looks Like
Next time you’re in a gym, scan the bank of treadmills. The person with great treadmill running technique is the one who is:
- running in the middle of the treadmill, not right up against the console in the front.
- leaning forward—that is, they have a straight rather than slouching spine, but it’s on a forward angle
- keeping their hands close to their heart
- following the rest of the Balanced Runner Keys
- not watching TV (sorry!)
- doesn’t have headphone wires or their smartphone interfering with their armswing
I’m betting a couple of those surprised you. So let’s unpack them one by one over the next couple of blog posts.
Middle of the Treadmill
We instinctively want to move forward when we run (duh!), and we also want to avoid falling off the end of the treadmill, which we know is back there somewhere. For both those reasons, we naturally gravitate to the console at the front.
The problem with this is that it makes you alter your armswing, run more upright (not a good thing!) and sometimes even arch backwards a bit.
Avoid this distortion of your form by intentionally running about a foot away from the console, in the middle of the treadmill.
This is one of those things you’re just going to have to keep reminding yourself of, because your brain wants to reduce the number of things you have to pay attention to, especially as you fatigue, and if you run all the way forward on the machine then you don’t have to pay attention to not falling off the back.
But you’ll pay for it in your form and you’ll feel worse afterwards, so make the effort.
Besides, it’s easier to run at a given pace on a treadmill than it is outside because there’s no air resistance. So you have a little extra energy—spend some of it on making sure your treadmill position is good.
I’ll have more for you about that lack of air resistance in the next post, as I tackle the issues of forward lean and hands close to your heart. Stay tuned!
15 thoughts on “Treadmill Running Form Tips that May Surprise You”
The worse part of running on a tread mill are:
The constant pace, in the real world your running pace changes constantly depending on hills up or down, road conditions, scenery, etc.
The focus required to keep your feet in the middle of the tread mill, let your mind wander and you will know how a tread mill can bite.
The lack of air flow, I end being just a huge sweaty mess.
Yes indeed. That and more is why I personally hate it. But sometimes it’s better than not running at all, if those are your only two choices. Definitely make sure to read my upcoming posts, where I’ll talk more about the problems with treadmills and some unconventional fixes.
Thank you. I followed your technique training and found it very interesting. I have been using it to have better form so that I can continue to run as I age!
That’s great, Suzie!
I so agree. The thing that bothers me most are the stinging bright lights in the gym that are just overbearing on my nervous system and cause me to tense up; And don’t get me started on the jamming music. Get me on a trail NOW!
Absolutely. I would also add to that list the bad, re-circulated air. Practically no oxygen. Really the list of what’s wrong with treadmills could go on and on and on.
A couple more very significant problems with treadmill running:
1) the world does not move past you, as it does in real world
2) the ground is not solid – there is some give/bounce – which again does not appear in the real world.
Both of these things are ‘not real’ & disturb my nervous system, leaving me wobbly & disoriented!
I agree that the sensory confusion is a major issue, Jan–not only what you see, but also the vestibular system. I’ll be covering that in an upcoming post in this series. The issue of the give/bounce is not as clear-cut, since natural surfaces have many different properties.
There is another angle to treadmill running. All power produced goes forward with no lateral movement. Similar to cycling, a bike needs to have a solid bottom bracket so all power produced goes forward.
Kerryn McCann won the 2006 Commonwealth Games Marathon training 12 months on a treadmill.https://youtu.be/pBBngsAvafQ You could see that in her running technique, a little robotic, but all power moving forward. No sideways movement.
I have found that 10 minutes on a treadmill and then going for a walk or run I feel like I am on ball bearings it is so easy to run.
But since doing Jae’s Mind Your Running Challenge, I am not sure I even need a treadmill anymore. Boy I feel good running now. My transformation was one day. Well at least I am hooked on something healthy!
That’s an interesting aspect of treadmill running for sure! So glad you liked the challenge, Rod. The thing about forward movement is that it’s produced in a human body by all sorts of lateral and twisting movements. People confuse the outcome–forward motion–with the means and end up recommending only front-back movements as “correct form.” The Mind Your Running Challenge clarifies all of that.
Yes, I can see I was one who has confused forward motion with front-back movements. And your challenge has most definitely clarified how the human body moves.
I want to learn more, Jae. Is ‘The Core Action Program’ a suitable extension of the 7-day challenge?
The best next step is my online running technique camp. It’s about twice as much material as the Core Action Program and there’s support from me via Q&A calls and a forum. I’m just updating it now and expect to open registration next week. Make sure you’re on my main email list (if you’re not, you can sign up here: http://eepurl.com/bshYdv) and you’ll get an email when I open it up.
Hi Jay Wonder-full Write up
I have a small question
Today I noticed that I have about at least four different ways of running, and I don’t know which one is right. I know which one feels good but I don’t think that’s correct based on what I’m reading. I have watched videos on running form but they all have a much more open stride than me because they are going faster and are doing it outside on pavement. If I lean forward, for example, I’m gonna hit the treadmill controls.
Any help or sources out there for good form treadmill running, or do I have to go to a running shoe store?
Hi Virginia. You should definitely move back to the middle of the belt as I describe in the post–that helps you have the space to lean forward. If you still feel like you’re going to hit the controls, you probably have difficulty leaning forward outdoors as well, and that’s an issue of knowing how to use your glutes to hold your head up. This video will help explain that phenomenon: https://youtu.be/hrSAhpZXKto Beyond that, definitely read the rest of the posts in the treadmill series, since they cover what’s different about treadmills. Anything not included there is the same regardless of whether you’re on a treadmill or solid ground, so dig into the posts tagged The Balanced Runner Keys on my blog to start learning.
I am gladthat after reading your post I tried your technique training; it’s pretty impressive. Thanks for sharing such phenomenal content!