Running treadmills are present in almost every gym, and besides training they are also used for research and clinical purposes.

In the United States a survey showed that 17% of runners preferred to run on a treadmill. Additionally, they were also used by elite athletes as a supplementary training mode.

In the clinical field treadmill running is used in combination with video analysis to study running technique and give footwear and orthotic recommendations, but also for performance enhancement, injury prevention and rehabilitation.

For research purposes treadmills are commonly used to evaluate running biomechanics. A common belief is that running in a treadmill requires less propulsion, because the belt is moving the supporting leg under the body, instead of the runner moving the body over the supporting leg.

This topic is the focus of a recent meta-analysis, that used data from 33 articles on the topic that complied with the inclusion criteria.


The studies

The main characteristics were:

  • 494 participants (349 males, 111 females, 34 not specified)
  • 16 studies included only males, 15 a mix of males and females and 2 did not specify gender
  • 30 studies recruited participants runners or physically active, and 3 did not specify it
  • 21 studies specified that the participants had prior experience with treadmill running
  • In the overground conditions: 9 studies used a synthetic track, 3 a concrete road, 19 an indoor lab runway and 2 studies a combination of overground surfaces (track, grass, concrete).
  • Running speeds ranged between 9.4 and 23.0 km/h (not specified in 4 studies)
  • 14 studies provided <6 min of familiarization immediately before data collection, 10 provided ≥ 6 min, and 9 did not specify the familiarization procedure.


The results

Spatiotemporal parameters, kinetic, muscle activity and muscle-tendon relation were largely comparable between treadmill and overground running.

sagittal (or anteroposterior) plane is perpendicular to the ground, separating left from right (see image). There were differences in some sagittal plane measurements:

  • Sagittal foot-ground angle.
  • Knee flexion during the footstrike and stance stages.
  • Vertical displacement of the pelvis.

Additionally, there were inconclusive results regarding muscle activity, with some studies reporting lower muscle activity while running in a treadmill, while others didn´t find any difference.


The conclusions

Biomechanics were mostly similar between treadmill and overground running. The small differences could be due to differences in surface stiffness, insufficient treadmill running experience, differences in air resistance and altered speed perception.

These factors should be considered to minimize biomechanical differences and improve training effectiveness using running treadmills.

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Is Motorized Treadmill Running Biomechanically Comparable to Overground Running? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cross-Over Studies.

Van Hooren B, Fuller JT, Buckley JD, Miller JR, Sewell K, Rao G, Barton C, Bishop C, Willy RW.

Sports Med. 2019 Dec 4. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01237-z.

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