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  • Alison Synakowski

Runners: Transitioning from Treadmill To Road

It’s almost spring here in Upstate NY and that means one thing - runners will start their transition from treadmill running to road running. This can be associated with increased discomforts and pains if not done well - so how can we make this transition and minimize the risk of pain.


Here are some key differences between the Treadmill and Road.


  • Treadmill running focusing on “pulling” through the motion, while Road running focuses on the “push off” into the motion - big difference

  • Roads are not as forgiving as treadmills that have a little “bounce” to them - more force is absorbed through your body

  • Roads are uneven, cantered, and hilly

  • Perception of speed - an interesting research study was done that showed that runner’s perceived speed on a treadmill is actually 2 minutes per mile SLOWER than that outside. Obviously we can track this much better these days with devices if used, but most people just go run.

  • Air Resistance Plays a role - this is why running on a 1% incline is advised on treadmills (not due to the road, due to the air)

  • Body Mechanics change - on the treadmill we tend to be flatter in our feet, shorter strides, and more of a lean to our body


Now - anytime we start a new routine it takes our body time to get used to it - but I find many people get frustrated that they “are doing the same milage but are now getting hurt” when they transition outside. If we start with the above understanding of differences in the activity - then you can see that even though the exercise is similar - is it not the same and our body needs time to adapt to a new load —> it does not do well with quick, intense changes.

What can we do to make the transition better?

The last thing anybody , especially any runner, wants is to start running outside in beautiful weather only to get hurt and be sidelined. So take some care and seek some understanding on how to progress.

  1. Slow cook the transition. If you Run 20 miles a week —> start with 5, then 10, then 15, then 20 outside and keep the rest inside. Maybe even slower - depends on how you feel

  2. Work in the “off season” on strengthening~. Strengthening our bodies shows to positively impact runners in many ways including making us more resilient to changes in surface and work loads.

  3. Start working on particular areas that impact the run - check out these exercises and see how you do!

  • Toe Sit - Can you get your buttock to your heels and feel OK? Running requires a lot of push off from your great toe - without this mobility and use of the toe you can get a host of issues (posterior tibialis tendonitis, achillies tendonitis, knee pain, hip pain, back pain….ok so anything can stem from this). Check out a video here: https://youtu.be/IVsI23Mkx1Y

  • Low Lunging - the lunge is a great position to train to support running as it mimics the stride to some degree. Can you hold the bottom position of a lunge for 5-10 seconds? Check out a video here: https://youtu.be/HM3qQsBcEPQ

  • Jump squats - work on landing soft, back straight - reach those arms back to assist a great position - this will help with managing the load of road a bit more if you have never worked on jumps. Check out a video here: https://youtu.be/NrlnJew6aZM

  • Sissy Squats - knees do and should go over the toes - what? Yes, yes, knees go over the toes often. If we do not train this - when we load down hill it can be a prime cause of patellar tendonitis / issues. Check out a video here: https://youtu.be/CpZ-wj_F13M. If you find this too challenging: try starting here: https://youtu.be/aSUehChxDyg.


In a nutshell - the two main points are

  1. Slow cook the transition from treadmill to road, fit the urge to transition all at once.

  2. Prepare your body for the load requirements of running, above are some examples but squatting, single leg activities, pushing and pulling are key components to being strong and resilient.

Happy Running!

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