The problem with treadmills.

I have a PT test this weekend.  It isn’t that big of a deal, I have to re-certify once a year, that I am still fit to be in the U.S. Army.  this consists of 3 tests, back to back, with 10 min of rest in-between.  First pushups, which for my age I must complete between 39-77, then sit-ups 45-88, then a 2 mile run in 13:00-17:01.  So, in preparation for this test, I’ve been doing some pushups, sit-ups, and runs, just to make sure I have nothing to worry about.

Last night, I knew I needed to get some running in, as it had been about 2 weeks since I’d had a chance to (with Thanksgiving and all).  But last night was particularly cold, and wet, so I decided to give my old arch-nemesis the treadmill a chance to work me for 2 miles, after all… better than nothing right?

I set my speed, and started running.  I adjusted the buttons and knobs throughout, made it faster and slower as I needed and was able, and when the 2 miles was over, I had shaved a whopping 90 seconds from my most recent time (again, after 2 weeks of NO training, and EATING THANKSGIVING)… and this is the problem with treadmills.

I’m a firm believer that fitness shouldn’t be philosophical.  Sure fitness has firm foundations in the aesthetic, but never the less, fitness should be measured by your capabilities in real world application.  I run, and time myself OFTEN.  I know the window wherein my personal push can make me run.  I know my recent fastest, i know my all time fastest, I also know my slowest, and with the help of good ‘ol fashioned Mr. Treadmill, I DESTROYED those times.

*But Kirk, being ‘faster’ is a good thing, how is this bad?*  I’m so glad you asked.

Because it isn’t a real assessment of anything.  My body can’t actually run 2 miles in the time that the treadmill said I could.  The lack of changing air pressure, the ergonomically perfect running surface, the pleasantly distracting televisions surrounding you, they all serve to bolster up unrealistic understanding of your real world potential.  If I didn’t realize this, and only ran on treadmills for exercise, I’d be under the impression that I could run much better/further/faster than I actually can.  Its like people on the coast that train and train and then go for a run on vacation in the mountains, they QUICKLY find out that altitude MATTERS!  Well, so does variable air pressure, micro-fluxuations in running surface and the mental game of pushing yourself not being pushed by a maniacally moving floor.

The law of thermodynamics boils down to the colloquialism of “calories in, calories out”.  So, in this vein, treadmills burn calories.  But fitness shouldn’t be philosophical.  If you want to burn calories, do it in a way that has real world application, transferable skills, and will lead to better body mobility and functionality and not just make you sweat.

Treadmills don’t train your lungs for the real world.  Treadmills don’t train your feet, ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, or back for the real world.  Treadmills burn calories, that is all.  It is a dangerous construct to use treadmills as a guide to weightloss and fitness as they genuinely produce unrealistic expectations, and a drastically less effective training environment.  And never forget, a good treadmill is several thousand dollars, but outside, is typically free.


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