How a Manual Treadmill Can Teach You to Run

With most people preferring motorized treadmills—perhaps because we’re more familiar with them—manual treadmills don’t get the press they deserve. Any treadmill is a great training tool, because it allows you to run regardless of outdoor conditions. A manual treadmill can do even more, though: it can teach you how to run.

Because a manual treadmill requires ideal running form to use it correctly, you’ll become a better runner the longer you use it. Plus, since you’ll have to power the treadmill yourself, you’ll get a better workout, burn more calories, and strengthen your muscles. In this article, we’ll discuss the mechanics and benefits of good running form, and what a manual treadmill can teach you.

Good Running Form

There are four components to good running form: a fast cadence, short stride length, slight forward lean, and a midfoot strike. Even if you’re not a professional or elite runner, good form still matters. It will make your workout more enjoyable, and will help you run faster and better.

As Adidas high-performance coach Terrence Mahon observed, mechanics matter. Good form helps you avoid injuries and run with less effort and more efficiency. Whether you’ve just started running and want to establish good form, or you’re a seasoned runner who wants to improve, working on your running form is essential.

Each piece of good form is very simple by itself. However, there are many little things to keep in mind. Keep your head straight and shoulders open. Bend your arms at a 90-degree angle, and relax your hands. Run with a long, tall spine and a slight lean from your hips. Contact the ground as close to your center of gravity as possible, not too far out in front of you. Push-off from your feet. If you’re new to running, it can seem like a lot. Wasn’t running supposed to be simple?!

Cadence Matters

In addition to good form, you also have to keep cadence—the number of steps per minute—in mind. While cadence varies from individual to individual, around 180 strides per minute is considered to be optimal. As Blaise Dubois, owner of The Running Clinic in Quebec, Canada noted, “170 and higher is ideal, but ‘ideal’ is slightly different for each person.”

Training to have a faster cadence is important, as it will not only improve your performance, but also will assist in injury prevention. The closer you can get to hitting the pavement around 180 times each minute, the better. Why? A faster cadence almost always shortens your stride, and running with an overly long stride is a very common flaw in form. By keeping your stride shorter and quicker, your feet will land closer to your body, rather than out front.

Often runners find that minimalist, zero-drop running shoes that mirror barefoot running are ideal for running with good form. The low drop of the shoe makes it easier to land on the ball of your foot.

Benefits of Good Form

Good form is essential if you want to improve your race times. It can be the difference between bagging yet another new PR and just finishing. As Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi reflected, “If it wasn’t for form, I don’t think I would have won.”

But, more importantly, good running form will improve your running economy and help your body make better use of effort. Thus, if you want to get the full benefits of running, you have to have good form.

Coach and two-time Olympic marathoner Pete Pfitzinger noted that you can be a reasonably decent runner but still have plenty of room to maximize performance. Instead of doing more repeat miles, focus on improving your form.

Running economy can be defined technically as the oxygen cost at a given pace. In other words, it’s how much fuel you have to burn to run. According to Pfitzinger, many runners can improve their economy by 2-4% through improved form. That means a faster and easier run.

In particular, runners tend to struggle with stride rate, often hitting the ground too slowly and with long strides. Focusing on increasing stride rate and decreasing stride length will improve economy.

Finally, the greatest benefit of good running form is injury prevention. As Ed Kerry, or “The Run Doctor,” observed, by practicing good running form or technique “you will become faster and more efficient, but most of all you increase your chances of staying injury-free.” You wouldn’t think twice about practicing technique and form to improve in another sport like volleyball or football. The same attention to detail will help you in running.

How A Manual Treadmill Can Teach You Good Form

If you’re interested in improving your running technique in order to become faster, more efficient, and less prone to injuries, a manual treadmill can be a great tool. With a curved belt manual treadmill, you have to lean forward slightly, strike with your mid- to front-forefoot, and maintain a high cadence in order to really get the belt moving.

That means that you’re going to be forced to run exactly like most elite runners do. While it takes some adjustment, your body will get used to it. And you can use your improved form on a motorized treadmill or outside.

When your body naturally gravitates toward getting lazy again by “leaning back” on an outdoor run or on a motorized treadmill, get back on a manual treadmill. Remind your body what the proper form feel like.

In this way, a manual treadmill will train you like an elite runner. You’ll be strengthening your muscles more than on a motorized treadmill, and adding the benefit great form.

The Wired Runner