5 Must-Know Disadvantages of Running On a Treadmill

Disadvantages of Running on a Treadmill

Are there any disadvantages of running on a treadmill you might ask? The fact is, a treadmill workout can be an amazing form of exercise – but on the other hand, it can also be quite tragic…

Read on and discover all the disadvantages of treadmills – and how to use them right to reach your fitness goals!

The Disadvantages of Running on a Treadmill

Treadmills are great, and you’re likely to find at least one in any gym you visit today. And while advantageous, treadmills can have their fair share of disadvantages. Let’s take a look at the five most prominent ones:

Treadmill Running Can Cause Stress On Your Joints

The most profound disadvantage of treadmills is their impact on our joints. Specifically, how it impacts our knees, hips, and ankles.

Research shows that walking is a perfectly fine activity for almost anyone (1). But running can significantly impact the lower body, and carrying excess body weight only magnifies this effect.

With each strike, we place acute stress on our knees, ankles, and hips. Over time, this can lead to joint aches and injuries. Beginners and overweight folks would be better off starting with a lower impact activity such as cycling or walking. This will allow them to lose some weight (if they need to) and strengthen their muscles to offer better joint protection.

There Is a Small But Existing Risk of Falling (If You’re Not Careful)

One thing most people never consider is that treadmills offer a real and immediate risk of falling off and injuring yourself if you’re not careful. A good – and slightly funny – example are the folks who get distracted by something while running on a treadmill and fall off as a result.

On the one hand, this risk can be good because it keeps us in check and forces us to maintain a consistent tempo even as we get tired. But, on the other hand, this can bring a sense of anxiety into our training and ruin the entire experience. After all, who wants to have the thought of falling off the treadmill linger in their mind while running?

A great way to counter this risk would be to run at a sustainable pace and always maintain complete control of the experience. If you ever feel like you’re going back or you might fall off, reduce the speed or incline.

It Appears to Be Easier Than Outdoor Running

At first glance, running on a treadmill and outdoors poses similar levels of difficulty. After all, it’s running in both cases, right?

Well, research has a different idea here. According to one paper, the primary difference between the two comes from wind resistance (2). This might not seem all that important, but wind resistance makes running significantly more challenging for us. Plus, the quicker you run outdoors, the greater the wind resistance. 

Researchers suggest that running at an incline of one percent mimics the energetic cost of running outdoor best (3).

It Can Get Monotonous At Times

Look:

The treadmill is versatile and effective – there is no arguing there. You can pick from various speeds, programs, incline levels, and intervals. But still, it can get monotonous for some people. 

Unlike running outdoors, you’re stuck in one place with the treadmill. Meaning, you might not always get a true sense of progression because you’re running in place. In contrast, running outside is more engaging because you get instant feedback for the progress you’re making, you can enjoy different views and environments, and it’s more natural.

And yes, you might be thinking, “So what? Fitness is about sucking it up and doing the work.” Well, yes, to a degree. But you should genuinely enjoy your training and look forward to upcoming workouts. If you don’t, you won’t last long. Think about it:

How likely are you to stay consistent and push yourself hard if you dread each upcoming workout? Not very, I’d say.

A good way to counter this would be to switch up your workouts. That way, you can do different things and cause different types of stress on your body. For instance:

  • Incline running on Monday
  • Interval running on Wednesday
  • A relaxed and long jog on Friday

A Treadmill Offers Limited Exercise Options

Using a treadmill is infinitely better than not doing anything. If you’ve been sedentary before and have started using a treadmill to bump your activity, that’s fantastic. The problem is, treadmills offer limited exercise options. For the most part, you can pick between walking and running.

While both of these are great for improving your cardiovascular health and elevating your mood, a treadmill alone is not enough to make you fit in the true sense of the word (4). 

Of course, only using a treadmill is infinitely better than not exercising at all. But if you want to develop in a balanced way and improve your fitness, you should combine treadmill running with other activities like high-intensity interval training or weight training.

Final Words

There is no doubt that treadmills offer many incredible health benefits. If you are a fan of this machine, don’t let this article stop you from using it. Our goal here is to give an honest assessment of the treadmill and shed some light on a few of its potential drawbacks.

As you saw above, the drawbacks aren’t that bad, and you can find clever ways to work around most of them.

Other Helpful Resources

References

  1. Morris JN, Hardman AE. Walking to health. Sports Med. 1997 May;23(5):306-32. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199723050-00004. Erratum in: Sports Med 1997 Aug;24(2):96. PMID: 9181668.
  2. Reference 1. Some fundamental aspects of the biomechanics of overground versus treadmill locomotion. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1980;12(4):257-61.
  3. Reference 2. A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running. Journal of Sports Sciences 14(4):321-7 DOI: 10.1080/02640419608727717
  4. Lee DC, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Leisure-time running reduces all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk [published correction appears in J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014 Oct 7;64(14):1537]. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64(5):472-481. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2014.04.058