Taking Your Run Inside? Don’t Make These Common Treadmill Mistakes

“When you’re outdoors, you have to get yourself into that speed,” says Scott Brown, vice president of fitness at Orangetheory. “The ground isn’t moving. Here, the belt is moving. So, you might be overconfident and set the belt at a speed that puts you out of control. The treadmill allows you to override in a way that you can’t do outdoors.”

Norris says that many runners don’t enjoy treadmill running and may want to go faster to get it over with. While it’s certainly possible to fall into the comparison trap of running outdoors on the treadmill, it’s just so easy to peek at the speed of the runner next to you or feel like your own speed is on display for all to see.

“Speed is relative, and how a run feels to you is everything,” says Amber Rees, chief curriculum lead at Barry’s. “And it might not be the same as someone next to you, so try not to compare your speeds.”

If anything, you should be running slightly slower on the tread than you do outside, says Kate Baird, MA, ACSM-CEP, CSCS, an exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery, especially if you’re new to the machine. Again, use where you are on the tread to gauge how well you’re pacing. If you’re hugging the front, you could add some speed; otherwise, pace yourself.

3. Stopping Suddenly

Speed intervals on the tread can make it feel more fun and less like slogging in place. But unlike when you’re outside and can control your own deceleration, you have to wait for the belt to slow down on the tread.

That’s why it’s not uncommon to see runners “jumping the rails”—hopping to the sides of the tread as the belt continues to move, which could lead to injury—or pulling the emergency cord, which is meant for true emergencies only (the sudden stopping can be dangerous for you and whoever is hopping on the treadmill after you, as it makes the belt loose and slippery).

Needing to stop your interval so suddenly is probably an indicator that you’re going too fast and are out of control. “If you feel that you’re running so fast that you need to hop off, run at a slower speed,” says Rees. “Which is tough for some runners to hear.”

Even when running at your fastest, you should be able to use the buttons to bring your speed down gradually, she says. Remember to account that the tread takes a few seconds to speed up and slow down when you’re structuring your workout.

4. Not Adjusting for Conditions

There’s a common misconception that you should be able to run faster on the tread than you do outside. It’s a controlled environment: No wind resistance, no hills (unless you create them), no uneven sidewalks, no extreme temperatures.

While that may sometimes be true, gyms are environments with their own sets of conditions, and ignoring that could leave you struggling to keep up with your workout or disappointed that your splits are slower than usual.

Take the temperature: While in the summer, the gym may be a cool respite from the heat, in the winter, the gym will likely be significantly warmer than outside, points out Norris. If you aren’t acclimated to those higher temps—which you probably aren’t in the winter—you’ll likely notice that they make running feel more effortful.

There’s also the belt, which, depending on the treadmill, will likely be more forgiving for runners used to running on concrete but harder than a trail runner’s go-to dirt surfaces, says Milton. Counterintuitively, the fact that the treadmill is so controlled could make your run feel harder: Baird points out that long, steady efforts on the tread might challenge city runners used to weaving around pedestrians and stopping at lights.

“You may find that it’s hard to keep a constant pace for some of those runs that would normally have natural stops and ebbs and flows,” she says. “Be aware of it, give yourself grace, and adjust. Don’t go into it expecting a one-for-one.”

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