What are the real differences in running outdoors vs. on a treadmill?

Treadmills can spark contentious debate among runners. Are they a legitimate training tool or a second-rate simulation? If you’re concerned you’re not getting the most from your treadmill workout or are worried about a rough transition from tread to outdoor running, fret not, said Jenny Hadfield, co-author of “Running for Mortals” and columnist for the Runner’s World blog Ask Coach Jenny.

“You can still get a great workout on the treadmill,” she says. “I hate that judgment associated with treadmill running, that it doesn’t offer as good of a workout. It’s still running.”

Not that there aren’t clear differences.

“Depending on the method you choose, some muscles work when others don’t,” A. Lynn Millar said. Millar is professor of physical therapy at Winston-Salem State University with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and a fellowship at the American College of Sports Medicine. “There are a few muscles working differently when you propel yourself in outdoor running versus the treadmill propelling you. In outdoor or track running, you have to push yourself forward. There isn’t that activity on the treadmill, but there may be other muscles getting work.”

This, Millar explained, is what those in the field deem “specificity of exercise,” when specific muscles are targeted in training. Since you’re working different muscles depending on the type of running, expect to have a transition period when alternating between them.

Some professional running coaches like Janet Hamilton of Atlanta-based Running Strong consider treadmills a semi-simulation of running. “I don’t give it a one-for-one equality. Outside, you have to push your body through air — even if there’s no wind. The faster you go, the harder the resistance. You’re running in place on a treadmill. You’re not really having to push your body over the ground.”

So does that mean you’ll burn more calories one way or the other? Not necessarily, Millar said, noting that “there are minor differences, but they’re not worth quibbling about. You can achieve moderate-to-vigorous intensity whether you’re indoors or outdoors.” According to Millar, oxygen consumption is about the same.

Still, many believe that they need to push themselves harder on a treadmill to compensate for a perceived inequity in the workout.

“I see it all the time: People think they need to abuse themselves by setting their treadmill incline at a constant hill,” Hadfield said, adding that this sense of punishment only hurts your workout.

The incline rule is one she hears people cite all the time. “People want to make treadmill running really hard, so they crank it to something like a 12 percent incline. But you aren’t going to encounter many of those types of hills outdoors.”

She recommends keeping the incline between 2 to 5 percent and alternating it to avoid injury: “Beyond that starts to alter your stride and can really strain your muscles. There’s not a purpose for it unless you’re training for mountain running.”

Hamilton, who also teaches certification courses for the Road Runners Club of America, insists such a constant incline doesn’t accurately reflect the outdoor terrain or the way runners behave outdoors. “You wouldn’t go out your front door and find the steepest hill and say, ‘I’ll go that way.”‘ Instead, she recommends simulating a rolling course — going uphill for a while and then bringing it back down.

Alternating the speed is another alternative, Millar said. “It can also beat the boredom some find with treadmill running.”

And if you’re a beginner, Hadfield recommends not even worrying about the incline. She suggests keeping a zero incline and just “learning to run with good form.” Just like in strength training, good form is essential to exercise efficiently and prevent injury. “Some people push themselves for the cardio performance, but I say to keep your form,” she says. “When you start to lose your form, you start to lose the efficiency of muscle groups and you’re not able to get through the workout as well.”

One sure sign of bad form on the tread: if you find yourself bending forward to keep up with the pace. In this case, Hadfield recommends lowering the speed and focusing on keeping your back straight.

If you’re looking to transition outdoors, make sure to give yourself some time to adjust.

“Know that the pace from your treadmill workout won’t translate,” Hadfield said. “Running outside is not necessarily harder. It’s just different, and your body has to acclimate to that.” Aside from the biomechanical differences of outdoor running, there are environmental factors like weather, wind resistance and uneven ground to consider. Hadfield suggests individuals start by heading outdoors once a week and increasing that time gradually. Within a few weeks, she says, most individuals can successfully transition.

While the battle rages on between the two running methods, one thing is clear: either one will keep you healthy.

“For general health and fitness, it doesn’t matter which one you’re doing — as long as you’re doing something,” Millar said. McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


Middle-aged women happier with moderate exercise

By Fran Lowry

NEW YORK | Thu Sep 29, 2011 12:16pm EDT

(Reuters Health) – Middle-aged women encouraged to exercise at moderate intensity were much happier and more likely to continue working out than peers who exercised more intensely, a new study found.

Researchers recruited 255 women between 40 and 60 years old to do either moderate or vigorous exercise, then followed the volunteers to monitor their reactions. Overall, women who did moderate exercise were about twice as likely to feel energized and confident they could do more exercise in the future. More of them also showed decreased feelings of sadness and anxiety than the vigorous-exercise group.

“Exercise makes you feel better but it is going to be more pleasant when performed at moderate intensity as compared to vigorous, especially when you have been previously inactive or may be overweight,” lead author Dr. Steriani Elavsky, of Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, told Reuters Health.

She added that women need to learn ways to monitor their intensity levels while they exercise and do things they enjoy so that they stay active for the long term.

Middle-aged women are among the least active and their level of physical activity declines with age. Understanding whether exercise of different intensities has different effects on mood and whether these predict overall physical activity in midlife women is an important question to address, said Elavsky, who presented her findings at the North American Menopause Society meeting in Washington, D.C.

Elavsky and colleagues at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, studied 255 women who were not on hormone therapy and who kept a daily diary of activities and feelings for two weeks.

At the beginning of the study, the women completed two bouts of moderate or vigorous exercise. The vigorous workout involved exercising on a treadmill to the point where they could no longer tolerate the intensity, and moderate exercise involved a 30-minute session, also on a treadmill, at a pace the women selected for themselves but that could be considered moderate.

All women also wore an accelerometer, a small device the size of a match box, to track their energy expenditure and their time spent in activities of different intensities.

The study found that moderate intensity exercise caused more women to report later that they were in a better mood and to have greater feelings of energy, psychological wellbeing and “self-efficacy.”

Moderate physical activity was also much better in these terms for obese and out of shape women, Elavsky said.

Vigorous exercisers showed smaller benefits to mood, and those who were overweight or had symptoms of illness reported “significant decreases in calmness” after the exercise bouts.

Examples of moderate intensity exercise include brisk walking, ballroom and line dancing, biking on level ground or with few hills, canoeing, general gardening including raking, trimming shrubs, sports such as baseball, softball, volleyball, tennis (doubles) and water aerobics.

Moderate-intensity exercises are “activities that would allow you to talk in short sentences while you are doing them, but would not allow you to sing,” Elavsky said.

She added that she hopes her study will reaffirm to women that exercise can be a powerful way to enhance their wellbeing, and that they don’t have to go all out with their level of exertion.

“The effects we observed were large and moderate intensity is sufficient, in fact, it is optimal. We also hope that clinicians will realize the importance of considering the proper exercise intensity when making recommendations about exercise. Moderate intensity exercise should be recommended for patients who are not meeting physical activity guidelines, or those who may be deconditioned, overweight or obese,” she said.

Tracks of the treadmill: which music do you work out to?

Gym workouts have got my pulse racing to chart music that I would never normally listen to – even Chris Brown. Do I need a lie down or should I just run with it?

The treadmill display says 7.9km. I will get to 10, I always do, but some days it feels like an impossible feat. Sweat is raining off my arms on to the adjacent machine and I look at the girl who’s power walking next to me, apologetically. I can taste my heart in the back of my throat and my lungs feel like two brussels sprouts. Then some Yazoo-like synths pour from the speakers on the ceiling and a new video plays on the big screen – it’s Example‘s Changed the Way You Kiss Me. The track picks up pace, and when it breaks for the first time, I find I’m not staring at the emergency stop button any more, I’m back in the zone – a new, fiercer zone – running hard and (I wince as I’m writing this) really feeling the music.

After Example comes Lady Gaga‘s Judas, that new Calvin Harris one,David Guetta feat Kelly Rowland’s When Love Takes Over, and a load of other bangers – mostly top 40, some slightly older. I’ve hit 11km without even realising. The music my gym (Fitness 4 Less, in Hackney) plays is like an extra respiratory system for me when I’m running; it keeps me going when my body wants to give up.

Being galvanised by pumping music while exercising isn’t exactly a revelation. What is, though, is that I’ve realised the gym is the only place I hear chart music. I doubt I would have heard that Example song anywhere other than at the gym. It certainly helps that for quite a while now the charts have been dominated by dance music. That big, Ibiza-y David Guetta sound has permeated everything. All the better for the likes of me – a personal trainer in the gym tells me the average maximum heart rate someone in their late 20s should be training at is between 156-160bpm, and that any music over 120bpm is best for working out to. Incidentally, Changed the Way You Kiss Me is 130bpm.

I feel like there are chemical reactions that make me like this music, because I didn’t before I started going to the gym. I don’t really go “clubbing” any more, listen to radio chart shows or keep track of these things online. I just don’t care. But hearing them in the gym makes me care, and makes me aware. It means I can join in music-related conversations with my 21-year-old brother, which feels like a milestone.

When I first started running, my iPod playlists were full of hip-hop and, er, 80s rock such as Toto (Africa remains my ultimate running pick-me-up). I downloaded LCD Soundsystem‘s 45:33 at one point, but just found it irritating – it sounded like those off-putting mechanical wheezing noises a treadmill makes. Now I don’t even take an iPod to the gym. I rely on, and look forward to, the music they play. And when I run outside my iPod is full of the things I’ve heard in the gym and then downloaded at home.

It’s a curious relationship with new music, for the discoveries to happen while in a gym. It’s like going to the gym has opened a whole new (questionable) taste compartment in my brain. Perhaps it’s the endorphin-flooded state my body is in at the time, meaning that when I hear the song again I associate it with feeling good. More often than not, when the big screen showing videos to songs isn’t on to let me know what I’m listening to, I’ll become so pumped and fixated on songs that I go home and search for them with lyrics I have memorised. An example: a few months ago I kept hearing a song about “beautiful people”, its Euro-poppy hook building into this gloriously cheesy, mesmeric banger with a vaguely familiar voice singing about inner beauty and taking “your sexy time”. I like the idea of time being sexy and was – quite privately – obsessed. I typed “beautiful people lyrics” into Google and it turned out it was Beautiful People by Chris Brown, feat Benny Benassi. My heart sank into my trainers. I’m sure this will divide opinion, but I don’t really want to like any of his music. I can’t help it. But I also can’t help loving that song. I downloaded it, and listen to it constantly when I’m running, and that’s that.

A few friends who use gyms have had similar experiences with discovering, and for the most part ending up liking, new music. In spite of their usual musical preferences. Some gyms are better than others, though. A friend who is a member of Fitness First says it has its own version of an MTV-style channel, Fitness First Television, (catchy, that) which he says is “erratic”, with oddly timed “baby-making music” interludes. A friend who uses Virgin Active says it only seems to play artists signed to Virgin, which must be limiting. Another friend, who uses Gymbox, says it has live DJs. Live DJs! In a gym! Like a nightclub with treadmills instead of a dancefloor! I guess it makes sense, as this music seems made – no, scientifically designed – for people dancing in clubs, invariably on drugs, whereas hard exercise can produce its own rushes and emotional highs, albeit healthier ones.

So has the gym helped others discover the joys of chart music? Which tracks get your pulse racing? And is it ever OK to enjoy working out to Chris Brown?

My favorite pick at the moment

Does Backward Treadmill Walking Help Low Back Pain?

By Brett Sears, About.com Guide

There are many different options available to help low back pain. Postural instruction, mobilization, and exercise are proven ways to help. But which exercises are the best? Which exercise can help your specific problem?
A recent study examined the effect that walking backwards on the treadmill had on low back pain in college athletes.  Ten people were recruited for the study.  Five people had low back pain and five did not.  All were instructed in backward treadmill walking and then participated in 15 minutes of backwards treadmill walking 3 times per week for 3 weeks.  Outcomes measures were low back range of motion, stride measurements, shock attenuation, and pain measures.

In the low back pain walkers, all showed improvements in lumbar motion, stride, and shock attenuation.  Most importantly, all reported a significant decrease in subjective pain levels after the retro walking.

Of course, a study with such a small sample size would not be considered very strong evidence that backwards walking decreases low back pain.  Plus, a study such as this makes it impossible to blind the experimental group.  Simply put, the low back pain sufferers knew that they were in a study investigating the effects that walking backward had on low back pain.  Their reduction in pain could be due to simply knowing what was expected and reporting as such.

Many times, low back pain occurs episodically.  This means that it may strike, last for a few days, and then slowly dissipate.  Many of the athletes participating could have experienced a reduction in low back pain simply due to the passage of time, and not necessarily due to the intervention.

Regardless, if you are suffering from low back pain, talk to your doctor and physical therapist.  Ask about backwards walking on the treadmill to see if it may help you.  Be sure to stay safe-walking backwards can be a little tricky.

From http://physicaltherapy.about.com/b/2011/09/14/does-backward-treadmill-walking-help-low-back-pain.htm