When the weather outside isn’t conducive to your appetite for speed—or ahem, snagging that perfect sunset pic, while running—you might have to take your running habit inside.
In addition to the lack of scenic views, many people complain about the knee pain they experience when they trek on a tread.
Although this condition will vary from one runner to another, Marshall Weber, CPT, explains that this high-impact exercise can take a toll on your knees.
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This is especially true if you’re recovering from an injury.
Here, experts explain how the treadmill impacts knees and share their best advice for keeping your knees safe on the treadmill.
Understand how the treadmill impacts knees.
The next time you run or walk outside, analyze how you move. Without realizing it, you absorb hundreds—if not thousands—of pounds of force with each stride, according to fitness professional James Shapiro.
When you upgrade that intensity to running on a treadmill belt, your musculoskeletal system takes the brunt of the impact.
“If we force a stride and strike down, we increase the amount of force we have to absorb. Even if the ankles are the first contact point, the knees take more damage,” he says. “They fall in the middle between our ankles and hips and have a significantly higher likelihood of injury.”
While this habit is definitely dependent on your running style, Exercise Physiologist Jerry Snider says that most people tend to run on their toes on a treadmill.
“Running on your toes means that your knee is bent to a larger degree when your foot strikes the treadmill. Therefore [it] absorbs far more force with each step. Unlike running outside, the constant pace on a treadmill is unnatural. [This] is why this prolonged stress of each step can be detrimental to your knee,” he says.
Runners should aim to land on their mid-foot with each stride to help alleviate some of this impact.
Try walking first.
It’s not all bad news. With some tweaks, you can still have an enjoyable and effective treadmill workout that doesn’t wreck havoc on your lower body.
Snider says a smart way to train your stride is to take it slow with a walking session. He explains that nearly everyone practices the heel-to-toe strike when they’re walking normally.
This is much healthier for your knees (like this machine too), and you can gradually understand what it feels like. You can then put it into practice as you up your speed.
“The heel-toe pattern allows the force caused by the step to be absorbed through the ankle and knee into the hip. Therefore [it] dissipates the force through multiple joints,” he explains.
Focus on your posture.
If you’re half-running or focusing more on whatever evening rom-com is on the television in front of you (#nojudgement), chances are slim that you’re tuned-in to your stomach, your arms, and your back.
“Keep your core engaged, shoulders pulled down away from your ears, and posture tall to keep your body in correct alignment,” she recommends.
Though you might fall under the category of a runner who would rather collect miles than do any other type of workout, Physical Therapist Lauren Lobert PT, DPT, OMPT, CSCS stresses the importance of cross-training.
Far too many running addicts ramp up their distances and pace before their body is prepared for the vigor.
“It is imperative that you strength train and also practice balance training in addition to running. I suggest glute strengthening exercises, such as glute bridges, hip thrusts, clamshells, and sidestepping. You should also practice standing on one foot on uneven surfaces, such as a foam pad or a BOSU ball (this is our favorite). Keeping your feet and hips strong is essential to helping resolve and prevent knee pain in runners and non-runners alike,” she notes.
Don’t go for gold.
Your heart-pumping, energy-inducing playlist is popping and you’re ready to work.
But, for those with knee issues, a treadmill isn’t the time to push through your comfort zone—at least not in the beginning, Snider says.
When you’re training on a treadmill, focus on longer, slower runs, instead of aiming for your personal best pace. This will help you find a more natural stride and avoid knee issues.
Another tip Snider shares? It’s a tad dangerous but may make for a better experience.
While walking or running slowly, keep your eyes closed. Let your hands hover over the rails in case you need to steady yourself.
Without distractions, your body will find the pace and strike that works best for you.
Get fitted for running shoes.
If you haven’t been fitted for running shoes yet, Dunlop says that you’re not doing your workout—or your body—justice.
At any running or athletic store, professionals will have you run in front of them on a treadmill while they track your stride.
With this information, they can recommend a shoe. They can also tell you any adjustments that will make your feet feel more comfortable and supported.
After all, Dunlop notes that the right shoe can make a huge difference in avoiding and eliminating pain.
So while the treadmill impacts the knees, but that doesn’t mean you need to avoid it altogether. Stay mindful of your form and how your body feels and you should be able to run pain-free.
If you continue to experience discomfort, talk to your doctor about your options.
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