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Treadmills don’t change direction – which is a problem.

The reason it is a problem is because that puts you in a running pattern so straight that it causes you to use your joints and muscles in a way you were never designed to.

Ponder our fellow predators for a moment.

Of all the animal kingdom, we are the only one that runs for personal enjoyment

Most other animals develop their ability to run from a survival instinct. If they cannot chase down the slowest zebra/antelope/meal of choice, they go hungry that day. They learn to run, dodge, creep, change direction, sprint and jog as part of their hunting strategy.

But they rarely do it in one direction. Their ability to change direction with speed is usually directly correlated to their ability to catch their next meal.

Humans don’t need to run to escape predators. However, even after generations of laziness our hunting instincts are still strong – take for example of the young child and the voracity with which they set upon the unsuspecting ice cream truck. Natural predatory instincts if ever I saw them.

Seriously… Does any other song spike adrenalin through the system quite like the ice cream truck song?

(While we are on the subject, is it just me or does that guy have the cruise control set on ‘just a couple of mph faster than an 8 year old kid can comfortably run’).

What most of us fail to realize is if we are on a real surface (such as an outdoor trail), we are constantly changing direction, turning corners, moving on uneven surfaces and generally switching up our running pattern and loading our muscles differently with every step.

If we are on a treadmill, we have no choice but to run in a straight line.

If he’s not careful he might tear a ‘hamster-ing’

The next time you watch animals or small children play, watch how they move.

You will notice they will rarely move in a straight line for any extended period of time, but instead will follow a zigzag pattern (without necessarily any rhyme or reason). Just a few of the positive result of this type of ‘play’ is that they develop different muscles, have healthier joints and better balance.

Because animals often run or chase each other in a play-like fashion, I might also be bet they probably enjoy themselves while running around haphazardly… Certainly more than the docile folk you see strolling on the treadmill at an easy Sunday afternoon pace whilst reading one of the latest New York times bestsellers (come on people! It’s a gym, not a Barnes and Noble – at least get a glisten on your brow, for heavens sake!).

Okay Mr Smartypants Personal Trainer – I have been running in a straight line

Whats the big deal about that?

Heres why:

Identical movement pattern repeated equals the same joint pattern of wear and tear, which equals a fast road to Joint Pain City – population, you.

If we move the same joint in exactly the same direction and hit the joint in the same position repeatedly, we can wear the joint down faster and use the same muscles too much, creating strength and flexibility imbalances.

However, if we ‘spread the wear’, our joints have a better chance to regenerate, to be healthier, more functional and be able to keep moving for longer.

A few ideas for balancing the load on your muscles/joints:

Vary the speed, incline and modality of your cardio workouts to make sure you are using the joints in a slightly different intensity, patten and direction each time you hit the gym.

Running on different types of surfaces, whether an outdoor running trail, indoor track or local park, the most important factor to consider is variety. Keep your joints working on different surfaces and you guarantee a variety of wear (not to mention stronger joints and better muscle tone).

As the saying goes, “Variety is the spice of life”. Given what we now understand, maybe they should change the saying to “Variety is the secret to stronger, healthier knees, ankles, hips and muscles that surround each of those joints”.

Yeah, I agree. The first way is a little easier to say. But so less imaginative, don’t you agree?

How are YOUR joints? What do you do to mix up your cardio to make your workout a bit more curvy and less straight? Sharing is caring, I always say.

Jamie Atlas

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  • brianflanagan Sep 6, 2008 Reply

    I enjoy what you write mostly but, sorry there is a but, what you said about animals not running for enjoyment- “Of all the animal kingdom, we are the only one that runs for personal enjoyment”.
    I’m not sure you thought that one through very much.
    But I agree, (ah, a good ‘but’ to balance it out), the treadmill is very very un-natural and only resembles running. I have been using one for a few months and find it so much easier (purely in terms of physical power needed) to use and if it wasn’t pissing down with rain so much here in Ireland, I’d run the road way more.

  • jamieatlas Sep 6, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for the comment Brian! You are right, there may be some other animals that run for personal enjoyment – but 🙂 not in the same way we do.
    I have been to Ireland, so I commiserate with you in regards to the challenge of trying to find a time to go running when it is not raining – I blame the english, personally 😉

  • Jimbo Nov 13, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for that Jamie, very insightful! Now when I run on a treadmill I am going to make sure that instead of running flat out for an hour I vary the speed and incline. Glad I stumbled upon this page! 🙂

  • jamieatlas Nov 14, 2008 Reply

    Hey Jimbo! Appreciate the comment – I find that another benefit of mixing up the speed and incline is that I stay alert on the treadmill – can sometimes be easy to ‘zone out’ and let ourselves slip into a cycle – if we want to keep the body improving, we have to keep it guessing! Don’t be afraid to play with your stride length/speed as well – sometimes that can be a great way to work different muscles and experiment with our own technique to find what works best for your particular limb lengths and running style.

    Thanks again Jimbo!


  • […] on a treadmill with the action of walking/running on real ground (again, Click here and here if you are interested to know why). It may look the same to our untrained eyes, but your body knows […]

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