When the weather outside is frightful, your training can still be delightful.
When you’re on a streak, all you want to do is keep it going regardless of the season, so a treadmill is a must-have in a runner’s training arsenal. But not all models are created equal—adding or switching to a curved non-motorized treadmill in particular can make your indoor training productive on a whole different level, whatever the weather.
Being able to pivot rather than abandon a day’s training due to cold temperatures, rain, or snow is paramount. “Runners should have discipline, but they also need to be flexible,” says Mark Cucuzzella, M.D., a professor of family medicine in West Virginia who’s run more than 100 marathons and ultramarathons. “If the weather necessitates an indoor workout, you want it to be an easy adjustment.”
Elements notwithstanding, indoor training should not be seen as a seasonal compromise, but rather an opportunity to improve your running form in a controlled, weatherproof environment. This is why Dr. Cucuzzella and other experts think you may want to step on a treadmill with a little bit of attitude.
Why Look for a Curve
Choosing the right treadmill can help improve your running mechanics. A curved non-motorized treadmill, such as those made by TrueForm, can be a valuable year-round training tool.
“Running on a curved non-motorized treadmill forces an athlete to land closer to their center of mass, encouraging maximum hip extension and activating the posterior chain muscles [like the glutes and hamstrings],” says Dr. Cucuzzella. The arced shape also facilitates a forefoot-to-midfoot strike pattern rather than a heel-strike pattern—as occurs on traditional flat motorized treadmills. Over time, this can have a positive effect on running mechanics.
“If an individual is thoughtful with their training on a treadmill like a TrueForm, they’ll see a difference in their gait pattern as a result,” explains Andrew Hatchett, Ph.D., an exercise and sport science professor in South Carolina. “The TrueForm takes advantage of the body’s natural mechanisms to absorb force and translate it more efficiently to move better.”
Tips for Curved Non-Motorized Treadmill Running
Before you hop aboard a TrueForm for your regularly scheduled 15-mile run, know that there’s a learning curve (pun intended) when using this kind of treadmill. Here’s what you should keep in mind:
- The athlete is the power source that drives the belt, which is a benefit for those who want to pace themselves naturally, as they would when running on the road. The absence of a motor, however, requires some trial and error at first. “A TrueForm is not a mindless machine you just jump on and take for a ride,” says Dr. Hatchett. “You have to be engaged both mentally and physically to get the benefits.”
- Running form influences function. Where do you step and how quickly? What happens when you lean forward or backward? Where is your center of mass? These are all questions you’ll quickly learn the answer to on a curved non-motorized treadmill—and in the process you’ll become a more technically sound runner. “A TrueForm is the lie detector of running,” adds Dr. Cucuzzella. “If you don’t move smoothly and efficiently, you’ll battle against the machine. When you relax, get into a good posture and balance, and open up your hips, you’ll fly.”
- Manage your initial expectations. Learning a new movement pattern takes time, so be patient and abandon your ego. “Let’s say you can run 7:30s all day long,” says Dr. Hatchett. “When you get on a TrueForm, welcome to nine-minute miles! It’s humbling, but it’s normal, so pace yourself at first until you get the hang of it.”
- Think quality over quantity. Dr. Hatchett recommends using a TrueForm on your shorter run days, or, after you’ve gotten the hang of it, on days when you have planned speed work or intervals. Shift your focus from logging distance to improving your running mechanics, breathing patterns, and even internal fortitude. “Running in a confined indoor environment helps build mental resilience and fosters a mechanism of success,” Dr. Hatchett explains. “For example, when I run outside I have a nice little course where I run past trees and horses—I’m visually distracted. When you’re inside, however, you’re not visually distracted, and that requires a different mental acumen, which can lead to a kind of strength that people underestimate.”
- Downshift to a walk. Yes, a walk. While a curved non-motorized treadmill is great for speed work, it can also be beneficial at the other end of the spectrum. “Walking is often underappreciated in runners, but fast walking helps with fitness, posture, balance, strength, and hip mobility,” says Dr. Cucuzzella, who also recommends treadmill walking with a ruck (weighted backpack) for advanced individuals: “Anyone training for ultramarathons should definitely develop efficient walking skills.”
Choosing the Right Treadmill
TrueForm treadmills feature a shallow 2.5-inch curve, which provides a more forgiving surface and better indoor-to-road-pace transfer than models with deeper curve profiles, which create an artificially-assisted running surface. They’re available in two different models: Runner and Trainer.
The Runner is purposely overbuilt and designed to take a beating from high-level athletes of all sizes and speeds. It’s TrueForm’s highest-end treadmill and the only one of its kind to offer customization via your choice of running surface (track, turf, rubber, or barefoot-only) and color. It has a heavier feel to it, which forces the user to run a little slower, yet athletes still tend to experience less impact compared to traditional treadmills.
The Trainer is a budget-friendly alternative to the Runner. It features a heavy-duty steel frame and an impact-absorbing slatted running surface, and can handle users up to 400 pounds. It’s lighter and more compact than its big brother, making it easier to move inside and outside your home.
In addition to the right treadmill and cross-training protocols, the other critical aspect to success is a positive attitude. “Approach indoor training as an opportunity to enhance both your mental and physical well-being,” says Dr. Hatchett. “With that attitude, it will pay off when you return to the road.”