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Treadmill Junkies | Are We Wasting Our Time on Them?

My mind was blown, as I was studying for my personal training certification last year, when I discovered that there was in fact a difference in training on a treadmill versus foot-to-ground. And it's not just psychological, it's physiological, too!

The "dreadmill" as Eunice referred to it once in her genius of a 'running while hot' post, is a perfect nickname for the mind-numbing apparatus. Treadmills were initially developed to harness the power of farm animals, to churn butter and pump water - in the late 1800s. The concept was then BeyoncĂ©d copied for product assembly line use, by the revolutionary Ford Motor Cars Co. in the early 1920s.  After more developments, the idea was constructed to be used by humans for medical stress tests. Still done today with higher regulations, patients walked and ran hooked up to all of those EKG wires - to measure their heart's response to elevated speeds. Subsequently identifying heart complications.

And from there, vintage marketers saw that by lessening the stress aspect of the treadmill, it could be used for everyday exercise for consumers. Interest increased in households once the treadmill was implemented by the NASA space program for astronauts, in the '60s. With a fear of muscle deterioration (if you don't use it, you lose it), from being in a gravity-free/weightless environment - treadmills along with other workout devices were bolted to shuttles in orbit.

So, treadmills for human use was an afterthought. Ahh, you may say ... many good things were derived as an afterthought/accident; chocolate chip cookies, potato chips and cheese. Wait, I'm getting off track (see what I just did there?), but you get what I'm trying to say.

This all leads to my point, running on a treadmill isn't natural. Here's why I say that ... our minds are still in primal mode; hunter/gatherer - we've just manufactured everything - from our food, to well, our workouts - to accommodate our modern lifestyles. Seeing as we no longer have to run to catch food, our substitute is a running machine, problem solved? Not exactly. Our brains haven't evolved enough to recognize that we are actually running on a treadmill, because the objects around us are not moving by us. Our brain uses images transmitted through our eyes to regulate our response to our environment. We position our bodies, maneuver and land our feet in varying ways when we're outside - that we don't while on a smooth riding treadmill, in a consistent-scenery box - with mirrors, depending on where you train.

Sidenote: Shoutout to the barefoot runners, who take it to the next level of early physical exertion. I'm not that committed to fitness.

Treadmill running and walking essentially tricks our brains into thinking that we are being multi-directional, when we are not. Sure, we still get a great workout, we sweat, we hurt ... but when you're on a treadmill, there are no park benches, dogs, or hot guys with their shirts off - to let our brains know that we are actually moving. It might seem like a small worry on the totem fitness pole, but as we all know in life, a mimic of something is never as good as an original.

Yes, this is Photoshopped, but it's less ridiculous than where she
was really sitting; Burger King line.
So, will I still be logging miles on the tread? Yep. This isn't a preachy/hypocritical post. I live in Ohio where the seasons go: Winter, Still Winter, Summer and Almost Winter - so at times it's my only option. And don't get me wrong, they are beneficial tools in respect to revving up your heart-rate, burning calories and working up a sweat - but it doesn't light a candle to doing the same, more efficiently, outdoors.

While I haven't abandoned my tread, I have shifted the majority of my miles away from it, as much as possible, though. Which means my mornings start earlier and I'm running trails at night (with my bodyguard, lol) - while people are pulling off to go home. As I take daily strides in cleaning up my diet, making it more natural ... why not try carrying that behavior over into my fitness life?

Well, if treadmills are inferior, why are they so abundant? Do you even have to ask that? Mooooulah, baby! Like anything, it's a product with a major business behind it. We spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,400.00 on ours. Further, use of the machine is pushed heavily within some fitness facilities. Your trainer might not tell you this, but it's like an expensive placeholder. So long as you are chugga-chuggin' away and keeping up with your fees, their work with you is on a minimal basis. Leaving them more free time to get more people in the door, to use those machines.

Again, I realize that running, jogging and walking are not always practical outdoors. Be it the weather or safety issues - there are legitimate reasons. So by all means - just keep moving! But when you do get the opportunity to get your Nikes dusty, or New Balances muddy ... chuck the deuces up at that conveyor belt to nowhere and head to a park!

~PC


Sources + Other Opinions:
The History of Treadmills - Livestrong
How Effective is a Treadmill Workout? - eHow Health
Why Treadmills & Elliptical Machines Don't Work - Knowledge to Work