Curved treadmill… better than a normal one?

As several of my athletes have invested in one over the last 18 months and having recently been asked by another looking to replace their traditional one, I thought I would jot down why a curved/non-motorised treadmill maybe a smart choice because there is mounting evidence that you should go for one over a traditional version. Here’s why.


Right, first things first, a traditional treadmill has a motor which propels the belt and you, the athlete run on it. A curved/non-motorised treadmill contains guess what? No motor…


Now we have got that out of the way, to make it work, you must, not the machine. Because they typically have a curved belt (hence the name) so if you want to increase the speed you run faster at the front of the machine, to slow down move back to the middle of the machine. No pressing the up arrow to make it faster, just speed your legs up, just like running outside.


There have recently been studies completed looking at the physiological effects of these type of treadmills and they all come to almost the same conclusions, it is harder.


Seriously though the most interesting data points are these:


  • For any given speed, running on the curved treadmill proved more physiologically taxing than running overground or on a standard one

  • Oxygen consumption was 20-25% higher

  • Heart rate 25% higher

  • The lighter athletes expended proportionally more energy on the curved treadmill than their heavier contemporaries to overcome belt resistance.


With this fresh in our minds let’s look at the other benefits of these type of treadmills:


Technology


Most curved treadmills utilise the latest technology, especially the top-end ones which can offer a detailed analysis thanks to force plates beneath the belt. These measure the real-time power output of the runner. This is particularly useful when it comes to coming back from injury because you can ensure that the loading is correct.


As an example of these in real world usage when coming back from an injury you are prone to favour your dominant side whether that be imperceptible or not. By using the information provided by the force plates you can see which side you are loading or not as the case maybe, much the same way that you can ‘see’ your left/right balance with power meter pedals.


The manufacturers of these treadmills have claimed that running on their machines is far more challenging, and these results seem to vindicate these claims. As mentioned increases of 20-25% in cardiovascular demand for a given running speed is certainly challenging! more impotently is how is this relevant to you? Well, being able to place more demand on the cardiovascular system for a given speed is a potentially very useful training tool, especially for triathletes and runners. This is because not only is it easy to generate high intensities (eg during interval training), it means that you can generate the usual training intensities while running at significantly slower running speeds. That’s good because lower running speeds means less loading on the joints and muscles. Even better, anecdotal reports from runners using curved treadmills suggest that the running motion is not only more natural than a motorized treadmill, but is also even gentler on the joints.

Translating this into the real world, It is also suggested that they more accurately reflects the way you run outside. Standard treadmills effectively move the belt beneath you and you move up and down in a static position. Curved treadmills requires athletes to propel/move the belt beneath them which each foot strike just as you would outdoors.


Ground contact time is the biggest gains, a recent study suggested that they promote running economy by promoting a reduction in ground contact time. This is very easy to quantify for yourself if your own a Stryd, which has some amazing metrics to analyse and use.


The evidence that supports investing in a non-motorized treadmill or finding a gym that has one is compelling. Just make sure you concentrate those first few times, or you will fly off the back…..



Sisu Racing, triathlon coaching

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