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Treadmill running might be more difficult than running on the road

Why your treadmill miles can feel more taxing than runs on the road

A treadmill minute feels like a small eternity. Many believed that treadmill running was simply boring, which was why it felt more difficult. But new research suggests that your treadmill miles might actually feel difficult because they demand more energy than running on the road–up to five per cent more.

A 2020 study out of Sensors for Exercise and Sport Activities looked at shock absorption, vertical deformation, and energy restitution on treadmills, and compared them to other running surfaces (road or track). It turns out that treadmills are significantly more shock absorbing than the other surfaces runners tend to use, which can result in a run requiring more effort from the runner.

Pablo Espinosa on treadmill at Kondition gym
Pablo Espinosa on treadmill at Kondition gym. Photo: Facebook

How much shock do treadmills absorb?

Of the three factors, shock absorption varied the most when the surfaces were compared. Treadmills absorb significantly more energy than a concrete sidewalk or even a track. For example, treadmills at a fitness centre would range from 58 to 70 per cent absorption, a track would take between 35 to 50 per cent and the road close to zero per cent.

How does this change your run?

According to researchers, the shock absorption of a surface plays a big role is elastic energy recovery and muscle-tendon efficiency. This means that higher shock absorption can result in more work for muscles, which means bigger overall energy demands (also known as less efficient running). Authors estimated that a 35 per cent increase in shock absorption could make running as much as five per cent harder.

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What does this mean for treadmill users?

If you’re accustomed to running on a treadmill, this five per cent difference probably isn’t noticeable. However, if you’re not used to treadmill miles, it might (justifiably) feel a little more difficult than your usual run around the neighbourhood. Runners can adjust their pace accordingly or take comfort in the knowledge that they could be working a touch harder than usual.

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