Treadmill Running Form Tips that May Surprise You

By Jae Gruenke | Natural Running Form

Feb 24

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!

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About the Author

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.

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(8) comments

Colin Parkinson February 25, 2019

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.

Reply
    Jae Gruenke February 25, 2019

    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.

    Reply
Suzie February 26, 2019

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!

Reply
    Jae Gruenke February 27, 2019

    That’s great, Suzie!

    Reply
Esther Harrier February 27, 2019

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!

Reply
    Jae Gruenke February 27, 2019

    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.

    Reply
Jan March 4, 2019

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!

Reply
    Jae Gruenke March 9, 2019

    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.

    Reply
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