Slower on a treadmill?
May 23, 2011 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I have just begun running on a treadmill with some regularity. I've been running in general for about 3 years. Why is my treadmill experience the opposite of what I had expected?

Due to convenience, sometimes weather, and a desire to exercise at the same time as my wife (who despises running) I have started running on a treadmill at the gym regularly. Otherwise I typically run outdoors, on dirt or gravel as much as possible.

I read up on treadmill running before I started. One consistent theme was that the treadmill is "easier" than running outdoors--one should expect his speed to be a bit faster, his times shorters, endurance better, etc. This has not been the case for me at all.

I find that my "comfortable" mile times are much higher on the treadmill (around 10 minutes, as opposed to 8:45-9:15 outside) and that I get tired faster and am more likely to want to walk for a couple minutes in the middle to catch my breath. I don't think this is a problem exactly, but I'm curious if anyone else has had this experience, if there is a likely explanation, and if this means I should be concerned in some way about my form or fitness.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've had this experience. I think it's because I can't easily adjust my pace on the treadmill. So outside, I might have an average speed of 9 mph, but my actual speed at any given time will be somewhere between 8 mph and 12 mph depending on my breathing, fatigue, etc. If I'm on a treadmill, I can't adjust my speed down briefly when I need to, so I get tired out faster and end up having to slow the whole thing down to avoid overworking myself. That's my theory. And that's why I don't like the treadmill.
posted by decathecting at 1:38 PM on May 23, 2011

yeah, it could be you're getting hotter because of reduced airflow. Can you get a fan?
posted by GuyZero at 1:42 PM on May 23, 2011

The treadmill is harder for me because it's way more boring. It's harder mentally for me, and instead of getting "lost" in my head like I do outside, I end up thinking negatively and I think it slows me down.

Also, when I'm outside, I always speed up when I'm going past someone...depending on how many people I see outside, that can add a lot of speed to my jogs!
posted by katypickle at 1:47 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have experienced this as well and for me it's a combination of two things mentioned – inability to vary pace and boredom. The former in particular is a surprisingly significant difference. I think that I can do a long run at a faster average pace if I'm allowed to let my speed ebb and flow a little bit.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 1:52 PM on May 23, 2011

Yes, this has been true for me, too. My only hypothesis is that my treadmill is at a minimum incline of something like 1.5 degrees and perhaps the continuous slight incline makes a difference.
posted by magicbus at 1:53 PM on May 23, 2011

This is just a guess based on the way bicyclists switch up their position during long climbs to rest various muscles (e.g., spinning back in the saddle, "honking" out of the saddle, etc.) but I find that on a treadmill I tend to settle into exactly the same stride step after step, whereas when I run in the streets I tend to vary my stride a little to accommodate the terrain. Maybe you're tiring faster because the uniform surface encourages you to hit the same muscles over and over again instead of spreading the load over a few different ones?
posted by d. z. wang at 2:06 PM on May 23, 2011

Agreed with katy. Running on a treadmill blows and drains the activity of all the fun inherent in going for a run outside. I hate them.
posted by kavasa at 4:03 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

For me, the difference is the heat. The gym has bad airflow, it's about 28 celsius, and with everyone running, very humid. I'm a runner that really doesn't cope with the heat; it makes a notable and dramatic difference to my times. Outside (in winter here in Sydney at any rate), it is cooler, dryer, and windier. That keeps me cooler, and cooler = faster.

Also, be aware that unless you're really measuring strictly, a mile outside on the path etc may not quite be a mile. We're all efficient runners and will shave off the metres/yards turning corners etc that maps won't generally take into account!
posted by smoke at 5:04 PM on May 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. The treadmills I use are at my gym and at random hotel fitness rooms all over (I travel for work), so I can't really add a fan. It's interesting to see that so many people have had similar experiences. I've certainly noticed that the sameness from step to step does make the experience different, but I hadn't considered the possibility that it slowed me down, because it seems "efficient." Interesting.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 5:46 PM on May 23, 2011

Nthing pacing. Also the extra focus of staying perfectly centered on the treadmill... I'm sure I wobble all over when running normally, but I never notice it, put me on a treadmill and I'm correcting every two steps. (Interestingly, the stationary bike is easier for the same reason--don't have to balance or steer.)
posted by anaelith at 4:22 AM on May 24, 2011

This is true for me too! Running on the treadmill for me is usually a 10 min pace for 30 minutes before I quit, but outside I can do 8-10k at 9 min miles. I think a) wind/outdoors means different conditions, b) distractions! So much easier to keep going when you're not just staring at the numbers, c) other people around me make me want to run faster. Totally common occurrence.
posted by hepta at 5:08 PM on May 24, 2011

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