Stay injury free on the treadmill

When weather conditions are downright unrunnable, or your schedule is jam packed, the treadmill is sometimes the only way to get in your workout. But if you’re logging lots of mileage inside, you could end up with nagging aches and pains.

But there are steps you can take to avoid that, says physical therapist and athletic trainer Greg Knapton, owner of Riverview Physical Therapy. Follow these guidelines from Knapton, and when spring finally does arrive, you’ll be ready to hit the road feeling healthy, fit, and running to run your best.

Just let go. If you have to hold on to the handrails to sustain your pace, you’re going too fast. When you’re running, swinging the arms is an important part of keeping your gait reciprocal and alternating . Holding on to the handrails can throw off your gait and lead to injury. So run at a pace that you can sustain without holding on.  If you’re just starting out, that may mean walking at first with brief bouts of running.

Watch your form When you’re running outside, you naturally keep your eyes on the horizon, and look around as the scenery changes. On the treadmill it’s tempting to stare down at the electronic display. But constantly looking down can bring extra tension into the shoulders and back, and make running unnecessarily feel harder. So look straight ahead and keep your shoulders relaxed. 

Watch your step. Think about taking light, quick steps. Try to work on maintaining a stride rate of 180 steps per minute. (To figure out your stride rate count your steps for 6 seconds, then add a zero). You should feel like you’re gliding along. If you can hear one foot slamming down louder than the other, it’s a sign you have some muscle imbalances or biomechanical issues to address.

Listen to your body. On the treadmill, it’s easier to override important signals your body may be giving that you’re going too fast.  On the road when you tire, you naturally slow down. On the treadmill, the belt keeps you going, even if you’re muscles are sore, your energy is drained, and you’re struggling to keep up. So if you start to huff and puff, your form starts to fall apart, or you’re struggling to keep up with the belt, slow down.

Mix it up. Vary the pace and incline as much as possible to mimic what you’d face outside. If you run at the same pace, at the same incline on each workout, you’re going to work the same muscles and tendons at the same angle, and put you at risk for overuse injuries. like IT Band syndrome. 

Ease back onto the road. If you’ve been logging lots of mileage indoors, when you get the first 50-degree day, it’s tempting to go too far and too fast on the roads —especially if you’re training for a spring marathon. But that could get you hurt. Outside, roads with varying elevation, surfaces, and angles are going to work your muscles and tendons differently than the uniform surface of the treadmill. It’s best to make a gradual transition and start with short, slow runs. And expect that you may need to build in some extra rest days so your body can recover. 

Dont forget your shoes. Avoid worn-out or ill-fitting shoes, and be sure to track the treadmill mileage you put on your shoes, just as you do outside.

Get strong. If you’re logging lots of mileage on the treadmill, it’s just as important to strength train as it is if you’re running outside. Building strength can help you improve your running efficiency, and stay injury free. Do exercises that work one leg at a time so that you can correct any strength imbalances. Try basic exercises like single-leg squats, lateral lunges, and bridges with one leg extended.

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