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.
Next time you’re in a gym, scan the bank of treadmills. The person with great treadmill running technique is the one who is:
I’m betting a couple of those surprised you. So let’s unpack them one by one over the next couple of blog posts.
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!
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter filled with analysis, information, insights, and tips you can apply to your own running!
Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.