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Is running on a treadmill the same as running on the road?

Posted Jan 18 2009 1:13am

Treadmill Have you ever wondered if running on a treadmill is the same as running outside on a road.

When it is freezing, cold, slippery, windy and snowy in so much of the world, many northern hemisphere runners have little to no choice but to run on their treadmills to get ready for the spring marathons.

The experts don' t really have an answer for you.

"This is actually a very ugly question, to which there' s no definitive answer," says Colin Dombroski, a pedorthist at the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic in London, Ont.

According to the globeandmail.com:

"More than 30 years of research have produced two schools of thought, Mr. Dombroski says. One holds that treadmill running is fundamentally different because your center of mass doesn' t move while you whip your feet from back to front.

The other maintains that, as long as the treadmill is moving at a constant speed, there' s no physical difference other than the lack of wind resistance.

The most recent attempt to unravel this mystery comes from researchers at the University of Virginia who used high-speed cameras and special treadmills with force-measuring surfaces to compare joint motion and impacts. The results, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise last June, showed that there are statistically significant differences in several parameters, such as knee orientation and peak force. But over all, the researchers concluded that the biomechanics of running on a treadmill are close enough to "overground" running that the differences don' t matter.

This is the same conclusion that many running coaches have reached through first-hand experience. "There are differences, but they' re very minor," says Peter Pimm, a Toronto distance-running coach who has guided Olympians as well as recreational runners for more than 25 years. To compensate for the lack of wind resistance, Mr. Pimm has his runners set their treadmills at a 1-per-cent incline."

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