By Kristina Pattison, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Keeping things interesting on a treadmill can be a feat in itself. The boredom of miles spent in one spot can derail the most well-intentioned training program. Here are several ideas to improve your chance of success for the runner who uses the belt:
One of the key measurements of work while running is cadence, or steps per minute. Historically, the rule of thumb for ideal cadence was identified by averaging the cadence of a handful elite Olympians at the 1980 Olympics in Los Angeles. What did they find? Across all distances most of these runners were running at approximately 180 steps per minute. Since then, research has determined that increased cadence results in decreased ground reaction forces through the lower extremity during impact, which can be useful for minimizing pain while running. But also, increased cadence has shown to improve the activation of stabilizer musculature just prior to impact which helps with force attenuation during landing. These improvements can occur at just a 5-15% increase in a runner’s natural cadence.
TREADMILL PLAN: Count your steps for 6 seconds while running at a normal speed, multiply by 10 and this is your steps per minute. Even better, have someone else do it or film you and count for a longer period. Your cadence will change at different speeds and inclines and all of us have a sweet spot where our form is the most efficient. It’s important then to practice keeping a higher cadence while running at the less natural speeds and grades. Try these ideas: shallow hill repeats at 6-8% grade for 3-5 minutes keeping your natural cadence. Or: short intervals at increased speed (1-3 minutes) when cadence naturally speeds up slightly, with the intention of trying to keep an increased cadence during your rest or slow period.
Power is defined as the rate of work performed, with work being the force transmitted multiplied by the displacement of an object. Power is traditionally a metric used in cycling due to ease of measurement of force applied with a meter attached to the bike. Running meters that attach to the shoe (e.g. Stryde) can calculate force development by the foot hitting the ground, multiplied by the distance traveled per unit of time. Ideally, power would provide a more precise interpretation of effort input to gauge the intensity of workouts, instead of using heart rate that has somewhat of a lag to catch up to effort. However, these running power devices can be relatively unreliable and the information they provide is sometimes confusing or easy to misinterpret. If you aren’t a tech connoisseur, you could consider using proprioceptive cues instead for improved force development during your training bouts.
TREADMILL PLAN: During an easy paced run, think of “running through the wall” a proprioceptive cue used by coach and author, Matt Fitzgerald to encourage the runner to exert increased force through the ground propelling the runner horizontally forward. The idea is to visualize a wall in front of you that you must break through to the other side. Importantly, this can result in you running into the front of the treadmill, so be prepared.
Historically, effort has been measured in terms of heart rate. Runners can use heart rate as an indicator of effort to ensure easy efforts are truly in an easy range, or to ensure they are staying in the correct intensity ranges during anaerobic efforts. However, clinical trials have found that rate of perceived effort is generally just as applicable for determining your effort zone. The Borg rating of perceived exertion is a scale of 6-20 and roughly correlates to heart rates. For example, 6 is sitting on the couch having a beer at halftime, and 20 is all out sprint to the end zone.
TREADMILL PLAN: Start your warm up at an easy pace where you can easily breathe through your nose and/or if you’re with a partner, carry on a conversation. Note your effort rating on the Borg scale. Then start to increase your speed until you feel you are running about as fast as you can for 10 minutes. Note your effort and speed. Return to easy for a couple minutes and complete the above at a shorter time frame until you’ve tried 10-8-6-4-2 minute reps with a 2 minute rest between. On subsequent reps you should be running faster and may note your effort rating change. With future trials of this workout you may notice your effort decrease at the same speed. Running at an increased step per minute and increasing your force per step will increase your running speed. As your body adapts, you will gradually feel these efforts become easier and easier until it's time to try some runs outside again!