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TREADMILLS VS. THE ROAD: WHICH IS BEST FOR YOUR RUNNING?

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TREADMILLS VS. THE ROAD: WHICH IS BEST FOR YOUR RUNNING?

Text by Rod Cedaro (M. App. Sc.) Consultant Exercise Physiologist ACC Accredited Level III Triathlon Coach (DUNCAN)

In TMSM (a magazine I write for) I’ve often sung the praises of riding indoors on trainers as a means of taking your cycling to another level.

In fact, here in Brisbane where we run our two Activ Tri-Group sessions at our indoor cycling facility (see: www.activcyclecoaching.com) as (i) it is easier to keep a group of varying ability levels together and safe and (ii) because the improvement we’ve seen from riding on the computrainers are substantially more than we could have hoped for by sending athletes out to do their sessions on the road. So that begs the question can treadmill running be to running what the computrainer is to cycling?

Personally I believe, like cycling on a computrainer, running on a treadmill can be an excellent “adjunct” to road running, but as is the case with riding, running on a treadmill should not be used to completely replace road, trail or track running sessions.

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I’ve often had athletes comment that running on a treadmill feels somewhat “easier” than running at the same pace than running over the ground. How can this be? If you’re running 4.00/km on the road you’re running 15kph, surely, if you stoke a treadmill up to the same speed you’ll be doing the same sort of work, or will you……….

When you run on a treadmill the ground (or rather belt) is being pulled underneath your feet and there’s no wind resistance, whilst when you’re running outdoors you literally have to lift and pull yourself over the ground and deal with air resistance. You don’t think that the air resistance is a factor? Just like drafting on the bike, running in another athlete’s slipstream pays big dividends, more than faster you go, in fact at an elite level on a 400 metre track during a 5-10km race the advantage of “sitting on” has been calculated by the boffins to be in the order of about 1 second per 400.

Think about that, over the 25 laps almost half a minute improvement for your 10km for the same effort by simply drafting a slightly faster runner – hence why at major track meets and major international marathons they employ “rabbits” to take the favourites through the first 2/3 to 3/4 of an event.

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Anyway back to our treadmill question. Running on a treadmill, along the flat is indeed “easier” than running at the equivalent pace outdoors, but, as you will see, this too can have its advantages. So how you can simulate running outdoors on the treadmill to make up for the air resistance and having the belt moving under you, rather than you moving over the ground? Simple, stick the treadmill on a slight incline – 1.5-2% will suffice. You will then find that the speed on the treadmill and what you experience outside over the ground will be similar.

So why not do all of your running on the treadmill? After all, it is indoors, in a controlled environment, there are no potholes to worry about twisting an ankle in, etc. The fact is that running all of your training on the treadmill is “too” repetitive and can lead to overuse injuries.

When you run outdoors you are constantly having the make minor adjustments in your foot plant and running gait to negotiate the ever changing terrain and surfaces you travel over. No two steps are the same; this is not the case with the treadmill.

Secondly, until relatively recent times treadmills didn’t have a lot of “give” in their decks, so athletes who did considerable amounts of their training on the treadmill (landing in the same manner over and over again countless times) often experienced stress fractures and the like. This is certainly also true of runners who spend the vast majority of their time running on the road (asphalt) or worse still concrete footpaths, however when running outdoors the athlete always has the option to run on softer surfaces like nature-strips and golf courses to lower the impact shock.

To their credit, treadmill manufacturers have recognised this shortcoming in their products and a number of manufacturers have made remarkable advances in treadmill deck design resulting in a much gentler run for the user. Unfortunately they haven’t (and to my way of thinking) wont, be able to get over the issues of every step being pretty much identical to the last and hence increasing the possibility of overuse injuries.

So is it worthwhile using a treadmill? Absolutely! A treadmill can be a valuable adjunct to your training when:

(a) You are trying to teach an athlete to run at “tempo” – in other words a consistent regular rhythm. Set the treadmill at 12kph and the speed won’t vary and the athlete will follow suit. Ask that same athlete to run 120 second per 400 metre lap (i.e. 12kph) after lap on a track and chances are the speed will be all over the place. Given that the most “efficient” way to run a race is even paced through the first phase of the run and then kicking for home, treadmills can be most valuable in this instance.

(b) When you’re doing some “over-speed” work. Swim coaches have long known that cardiovascular fitness, strength, etc. is only part of the answer to developing speed, the other part is “feel” or for those of you more technically minded out there – neuromuscular firing patterns. Swim coaches achieve this by literally pulling/towing swimmers through the water faster than they are capable of swimming. This gives the swimmer the “feel” of swimming at a higher velocity so that they can endeavour to achieve that same sensation when training/racing by reproducing similar muscular firing patterns. The same applies to a runner. If out on the road you are limited to turning your legs over at 20kph, a treadmill, where your legs are being “dragged through” by the belt can be stoked up to 20.5kph to teach the nerves that innervate your muscles to fire appropriately. Sure you can also achieve this outside by running DOWN a gentle gradient, but this changes your gait more so and greatly increases the chance of injury.

(c) Technique modification. Stick a treadmill in front of a mirror, point out the technical faults of someone whilst they are running and immediately, by watching themselves in the mirror and gaining instant feedback, they can modify their style and quickly improve their efficiency and ultimately their performance.

(d) Safety. If you’re in a strange location on business, you don’t know your way around the streets or the streets are chocked with car fumes, seeking refuge in a hotel health club or local gymnasium and jumping on the treadmill can ensure you still get that all important training session in.

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In short, used wisely and not exclusively, treadmill running has the potential to help lift your running prowess to the next level – consider it as another training option, but remember, mentally, you’ll likely have a tougher time dealing with the monotony of the treadmill. I can go out on a road/trail run and have two hours slip by easily, get me on a treadmill and I’m looking at my watch every 3 minutes and 24 seconds wishing the session to be over! It’s easier to distract yourself when running outside. The bottom line, as you get closer to competition be specific, try to train outside as much as possible to prepare for race conditions.

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Training for Marathons in March

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February is the perfect time to ensure you are on the right track if you are considering any of the upcoming marathons in March:

  • Sunday 1st March: The DendRod Cedaro 1y Park Urban Run has a 50km ultra marathon, 42km marathon, 21.1km half marathon, 10km, 5km and 2km events.
  • Sunday 1st March: Gordonvale Half Marathon, 10km & Family Fun Run, Queensland.
  • Sunday 1st March: The Orange Colour City Running Festival has 2km Junior Dash, Full Marathon, Half Marathon, 10km and 5km run/walk events.
  • Sunday 8th  March: The Port Macquarie Running Festival has a half marathon, 10km, 5km and 4km running and walking events.
  • Sunday 15th March: The Darlington Half Marathon and 8km is organised by the West Australian Marathon Club.
  • Sunday 22nd  March: The Nerang State Forest 9km, 17km, 25km and 50km Trail Race is in the Gold Coast, Queensland

There are so many different runs across Australia in March and now is a great time to consider entering one – and training for it! If you have never completed a marathon or long race before, you could try doing a run/walk mix for 5km. There are many different options, whether you are an experienced runner or not. If you have not started training, there are a few things to consider:

  • Diet – Are you incorporating the right foods into your diet to ensure you are fueling your body correctly?
  • Hydration- Are you hydrating before and after exercise correctly?
  • Exercise – What type of training are you doing currently? Are you doing enough training to complete a 5km run?
  • Stretching – Are you ensuring you are stretching enough?
  • Trainers – Are you training with the optimum footwear to prevent injury?

If you are considering completing an event in March, ensure you are getting the right balance of exercise and rest as well as monitoring your diet in the weeks ahead. Consider speaking with a personal trainer at your gym to help get you prepared!

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Buying The Right Running Shoes

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It can be difficult knowing what to believe when it comes to running shoes! Everyone has different

feet, and mechanics, so there is no “right shoe” for all runners. However, there are some general characteristics of a good, safe running shoe.

Soles are important

Avoid thick cushioning and high soles. This can actually encourage runners to adopt poor bio-mechanics, and land with greater impact than shoes with less cushioning. This is important in avoiding knee damage.

Minimal heel-to-toe drop is better

This drop is the difference in the thickness of the heel cushion compared to the forefoot cushion. Shoes with no drop or a small drop 6mm or less are the best choice for allowing the foot to normally support loading during each gait cycle.

A big drop can interfere with normal foot motion during weight bearing.

What about my arch?

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Extra arch supports are not usually necessary and orthotics should be temporary fixes (6-8 weeks) until foot strength is increased.

Foot strengthening exercises are far more beneficial than arch supports on a daily basis.

Do you pronate or drop your foot inward?

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Pronation is a natural shock absorber.

Beware of running shoes with arch supports that attempt to stop pronation. These can actually cause foot or knee problems to develop.

Pronation can be corrected with therapy and exercises to strengthen the foot, leg and hip rather than by a shoe.

Buy the shoe that fits!

Sizes are just guides, and they change from shoe to shoe, so ensure that you have your feet sized in the shop. Ensure there is room for your feet to breathe, and never force your feet into shoes that are too tight, or cause you pain.

Don’t crush your toes

Be sure the shoe has a wide toe box. The toe box is the area where your forefoot and toes are. You should be able to wiggle your toes easily. Narrow toe boxes do not permit the normal splay, or spread of the foot bones during running. This will prevent your feet from being able to safely distribute the forces during the loading phase of gait.

There should be at least 1⁄2 inch of room between the toes and front of shoe, about enough space to place your thumb between your big toe and the front of the shoe. Be sure that the heel does not slip when you run.

Buy Your shoes in the afternoon!

Your feet swell slightly during the day, meaning that shoes that fit in the morning may be tighter at  the end of the day.

When should you I replace my running shoes?

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Replacing running shoes every 350 miles is recommended, but shoes will vary depending on the materials they are made with.

If there are wear patterns on the shoe that reveal the sole layers underneath, discard the shoes.

Uneven wear on the shoe sole causes changes in running mechanics that lead to injury.

Rod Cedaro: 10 tips a week to keep you injury free when running- part 4

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31. Be seen be safe. When running in the dark make sure to wear reflective apparel so you can be seen. Leave your Ipod at home and carry your mobile. Don’t forget to let someone know your going out for a run and where you’re going just in case there’s an emergency.

Wear reflective clothing when running at night

Wear reflective clothing when running at night

32. Protect your skin. You don’t want to look weather beaten and 50 when your 30! The sun, wind, heat and cold can all damage to your skin. Make sure you protect it. Use products like sunscreen, chapstick and moisturizers to take care of it.

Use SPF

 

33. Lower back pain is preventable. To prevent lower-back pain, take time to stretch on a daily basis particularly through your lumbar and hamstring region. If the pain is especially acute, stretch, ice the area for 10 minutes, and stretch again.

 

Lower back stretch

Lower back stretch

34. To treat windburn try using a one-percent hydrocortisone cream. You can find this at most chemists and it will calm the irritation and burning.

 

35. Eat the “rainbow” – the more colour in your diet the better. Antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E are most common in fruit and vegetables they are said to offset the effect of free radicals which speed the aging process. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants will help keep you looking and feeling younger for longer.

 

Eat a colourful diet rich in fruit & veggies

Eat a colourful diet rich in fruit & veggies

36. Training and racing in polluted areas can increase your exposure to free radicals. The free radicals that you need to worry about are the ones that infiltrate your body via environmental pollutants, such as ozone and cigarette smoke. If you’re forced to train in polluted areas (e.g. Travelling on business) try to get out early in the morning before the morning peak hour when there are less cars, trucks, etc. on the road.

Run early in built up areas

Run early in built up areas

37. Free radicals are central to the process of training adaptation known as the “training effect.”Free radicals produced after a hard training session provide a signal to muscle cells that it is time to make adaptive changes to exercise.

 

38. Learn to be objective with your training. There’s a fine line between training hard and “over-training”. Try not to cross it! To avoid injury, draw the line between hard workouts and overtraining.

 

Foam rolling is great for hip flexors

Foam rolling is great for hip flexors

39. For running your hip flexors, in particular your psoas is very important, strengthen it and keep it flexible. Your psoas basically connects your legs to your body. It runs from the base of your thigh bone to your lumbar spine. If it is weak or tightens up your running suffers. Work on it with appropriate stretches and strengthening exercises.

 

40. You can’t train a tired body! Look for the signs and symptoms of over-training. Take yourself to the edge but don’t go over it.

 

For more of Rod Cedaro’s tips, see part 5

Rod Cedaro: 10 tips a week to keep you injury free when running- part 3

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21. For each mile that you race, allow one day of recovery before returning to hard training or racing. This “Race-Recovery Rule” is becomes even more important for longer events like the half marathon or marathon. Getting back into high intensity training or racing too soon is a sure fire way of breaking down.

 

22. Preventive medicine. Incorporate hamstring stretching and strengthening exercises into your training regime to help stop problems before they start The hamstrings and lower back are areas renowned for causing running related problems with distance runners and triathlete, by incorporating some hamstring stretching and strengthening exercises into your training regime this can provide some preventative medicine to help stop related problems before they even start.

 

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Visualise your goals

23. Mind games If you find yourself getting anxious before a race, imagine or focus sensations that have a calming effect on you (e.g. Close your eyes and feel the cool ocean breeze on your face before the start of the race. During a rough patch in a race think back to a particularly tough training session you completed and how good that felt working through the discomfort).

 

24. Keep it cool. Forget a hot bath or a sauna after a race or long or tough training session. Hop into an ice bath. Icing is a better post training treatment because cold temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, slowing blood-flow to the injured tissue which decreases swelling.

 

25. Build your base, increase volume before intensity. Increase mileage before speed. Increased mileage and speed place more stress on your body and each requires greater recovery and can cause overuse injuries. Condition your limbs with lower intensity work before adding in more quality.

 

26. Running/racing when pregnant? “Participating” in a race (i.e. Running) when pregnant is fine as long as you keep your pace conversational. Problems arise when you push the pace and/or elevate your core temperature excessively.

 

Add plyometrics to your workout

Add plyometrics to your workout

27. Explosive power and mobility exercises like plyometrics are helpful. Improve your explosive power/speed/change of direction, etc. by using mobility exercises like plyometrics. These can help you accelerate quickly or change direction when necessary to help you negotiate gutters and other obstacles when on a run.

 

28. Stay safe when running out on the roads. Stay safe when running out on the roads: Always run into on coming traffic, don’t wear Ipods, headphones and the like, be aware of your surroundings, run with a friend or in a group and wear bright reflective clothing.

 

29. Don’t train in elastic laces, save them for race day. Always make sure that your training shoes are tightly laced and knotted to avoid injury and loss of focus, rhythm, and pace. Elastic laces – if you’re training in them all the time, allow your feet to move around too much in your training shoes and can cause blisters and other overuse injuries.

 

30. To prevent athletes foot, dry your feet and shoes as quickly as possible following your training sessions. Change out of wet, soggy socks straight away, ideally have two pair of identical training shoes, allow one to dry whilst using the others.

Find out more from Rod Cedaro in Part 4