I have a history of being a swimmer, then a runner, then a cyclist, and finally a triathlete. Years of training have added up to good fitness for a triathlete, but along the way I lost some of my form as a runner. Without good technique for any sport, you will be less successful, thus, in the interest of better technique and efficiency, I added treadmill training to my regimen?
When I decided to start doing triathlon, I was working with a cardiovascular system honed by ten years of professional cycling, and years of running and swimming before that. I had a massive VO2, and lots of cardiovascular and physical strength. What I found however, was my running efficiency was really compromised from so many years away from running, riding a bike, which changed my running form. Tight overdeveloped hip flexors and large quad muscles had me overstriding and landing very heavily on my feet. I did not have a nice neutral body position over my pelvis, and I was landing heavily towards my heels. Essentially, my muscle development led to a loss in stride rate and running economy.
This year my triathlon coach Cliff English and I looked to improve my running economy by using treadmill workouts. The first was improving my leg speed (stride rate). Most cyclists and triathletes are familiar with cadence as a measure of pedaling efficiency on a bike, and the same applies to running. Most successful runners have stride rates in the low to mid-90s per minute (right foot contacts). The goal would be to have a default quick leg turnover in this range, for all runs regardless of pace, and then increase the stride length when looking to run at race pace.
Using a treadmill, it is easier to watch your running form in a mirror, ensuring you have foot strikes under the pelvis at mid-sole to forefoot. The feet should only be touching the ground for a short time; imagining quick, light, feet is the best imagery for good run form. The second thing to look for is your turnover, counting the number of foot strikes per minute. The treadmill is great because it encourages quick turnover and a shortened stride, but also the speed is generated by the machine, rather than the runner, so more emphasis can be placed on form while running at a quicker pace.
A treadmill can offer training sessions such as hill repeats, fartlek, tempo runs and interval training. I like the treadmill because of the specificity it will offer, similar to a Computrainer for cycling. If you are going to train with precision, you need this type of tool. Not only can you monitor your technique, but the treadmill offers an exact measurement of pace that you really can only get on the track, but with much less toll on the body. In addition, preparing for heat, humidity, or even altitude (with a hypoxic generator) while at sea level can be achieved when using a treadmill. For triathletes, a trainer plus a treadmill is a wicked combination as you can do a hard, specific cycling workout on the trainer, then move directly to the treadmill running at your goal pace off the bike. This specific training will help you develop a good pace off the bike and make you a very strong runner.
Choosing the right treadmill is critical. There are three things you need to look into when you are considering getting one for the home. I went directly to Precor because first, I wanted one fast enough, and anyone running sub-40 for a 10km is going to need a treadmill going faster than 12 miles an hour to push oneself, and Precor basically stands alone in that category. Second, the construction of the treadmill bed; Precor has a built in suspension system which allows me to run harder with less toll on the body? in essence, I can do track intervals without the wear and tear on my body that the track usually would entail. Third, a simple, intuitive display means that the information that is important is right in front of you; heart rate, pace, time and distance (in the units you would like, miles or kilometers).
Some of my favorite treadmill workouts include:
1. The non-race season tempo/aerobic base development workout
This is a quality base workout. Instead of plodding around at a low heart rate and low pace, warm up for 15-20 minutes, then do three times 12 minutes at a pace that is about a minute slower per mile than your actual 10km pace (i.e. if you run a 40:00 10km, you will run at 5:00/km or about 7:00/miles). Run easy for 2-3 minutes between each 12 minute work effort. Warm down after the workout for about 10 minutes. As you get closer to race season, and fitter, make this pace your half-marathon pace (maybe 30 seconds per mile quicker)
2. The in-season tempo workout
This workout is about reinforcing leg speed and efficiency. You will start with a 15-20 minute warm up with some 30 second accelerations to your 10 km pace. Then run at your half-marathon pace (maybe 30 seconds per mile off your 10km pace) for 2x 8minutes with 5 minutes rest between work sessions. Then do 4 x 2minutes at your 10km pace with 1 minute between. Finish the workout with 10 minutes at an easy pace to warm down. This workout is meant to be still at about 80% of your max effort, and shouldn’t fatigue you so much you need days to recover, this should feel good so that you can repeat it again that week, or still train with quality the next day.
The treadmill can be viewed as a tool that will not let you give up, sometimes the motivation not to slow the machine down will be enough to push you through that hard session. This can be motivating for most, daunting for some. Using good sense to not go beyond one’s limits is always prudent, but having tools to push you to your limits are important. The treadmill should be viewed as every runner’s best friend, and can improve even the most gifted runner.
So for those in snow locked venues, a treadmill might be a beacon of hope for your training. For those of us enjoying some incredible weather for the Northwest, it is the specificity to prevent us from overdoing it. Whatever the reason, using a treadmill can make you better, and I will prove it this season.