Author: Tim Bransdon
Have you noticed the fancy new pieces of machinery popping up in gyms lately? It looks like a treadmill, only it is not flat and there does not seem to be an on the switch.
Those curved treadmills. Or “manual treadmills” as they are often called.. Have been around for a little while now. But like many new gadgets, they were previously only used by elite sports institutions and specialised clinics such as my Running Lab.
But with several manual treadmill options now available on the market, they are moving into garages, schools, gyms and even living rooms.
“The answer lies in the disadvantages of the common motorised flat belt treadmills which populate most gyms and many homes.
Motorised treadmill running is far removed from running outside in the real world. Your job on a motorised treadmill is to simply lift your feet off the moving belt quick enough to not fall over. This method of running can reward the inefficient running technique and reinforce poor movement patterns. Next time you are around motorised treadmills take your headphones out and listen to the deafening pounding these machines cop. Look at how the poor machines bounce up and down with each crushing impact.
The number one advantage of manual curved treadmills over their motorised rivals is the reward for efficient running technique. Long, heavy, destructive overstriding is not only not rewarded on a manual treadmill, but it is also almost impossible. The curved contact point encourages a more natural sweep of the feet under and behind the body, similar to how I coach running outside on natural terrain.
A further reward is granted to an efficient cadence on a manual treadmill.. and especially for strong body position and posture.
The Running Lab has a mantra. “Position is Power. Efficiency is Gold”.. Manual treadmills can be a fantastic way to train Strong Position / Posture and Efficient Movement Patterns / Technique.
As there is no motor on a manual treadmill, the moment you drift away from sound running posture and efficient turnover of your feet, the speed of the belt changes – just like your speed and rhythm changes when running outside. This constant feedback promotes better running technique even without expert coaching.”
“Yes. Like any new active endeavour, good or bad, too much too soon can cause muscle soreness. The curved contact point of these treadmills results in your calf muscle loading a fraction of a second earlier each step, which can contribute to muscle fatigue and soreness. While the Woodway Curve treadmill promotes this early muscle load as burning more calories, my advice is to ease your way into using such a machine so your body can adapt.”
“I am so glad you asked. My life as a Podiatrist is dedicated to training Strong Healthy Performance Enhancing Feet. Without boring you too much, each of your feet has 33 mobile joints and 20 muscles within them. The potential contained in these joints and muscles are HUGE!! But they are forever incarcerated in stiff rigid shoes.
I am not an advocate of barefoot running as much as I am barefoot living. Put simply, it is the 23 hours each day you are not running which create strong healthy feet. BUT.. the controlled environment of a manual curved treadmill is the perfect place to enjoy the benefits of using your bare feet to aid your running posture and technique – Start slowly and build gradually. You will thank me later. But only if you take your time.”
“No, they all have subtle differences. I owned a Woodway Curve for several years. It was a fantastic tool to develop and build my Running Lab protocols from within the walls of my Podiatry Clinic. The machine is built like a German tank.. weighs nearly as much as a German tank.. and is priced possibly as much as a German tank. The biggest disadvantage in respect to usage of the Woodway is the aggressive angle of the Curve. This machine by far has caused my athletes and clients the most calf fatigue and issues when used as a regular training tool.
The Trueform.. priced somewhat less than the Woodway Curve.. and with a less aggressive belt angle.. falls down in respect to having a large “dead spot”. A subtle shift from the sweet spot on the curve and it feels like you are running in quicksand. Like any tool, this can be overcome with practice and adjusting your running to suit the machine.
The third manual treadmill I have had personal experience with is the Air Runner by Assault Fitness. I was introduced to this machine in May this year, and I was simply blown away. I have no insight into the research and design of this machine but it puts to bed the nuances I found with the Woodway and Trueform.
The greatest compliment I can give the Assault Air Runner is how easy and natural the belt feels under the body. Rather than having to adjust your running technique to suit the treadmill, running on this machine feels as close to real running as I have experienced. The angle of the curve is not overcooked.. this is immediately noticeable with the lack of excessive calf load and fatigue when running on it. There is also no dead spot or quicksand either.
My experience and opinions of the Assault Air Runner are shared equally by the elite athletes and regular running enthusiasts I work with at The Running Lab. For this reason, it is the first manual treadmill I see making a regular appearance in lounge rooms and garages. The price also makes it feasible to become a great home training tool.”
“To close this article I want to switch from the commercial products of treadmills to the organic products. You!! On your next run, I want you to leave your headphones at home and listen to the sound of your feet. However noisy they are, make them 10% lighter for the whole run. This reduction in impact stress on your body might well keep you out of my Podiatry Clinic.. and away from the surgeon’s knife by not grinding your tendons, bones and knees to dust.
Run Smooth. Run Light. Run Well”
So, do you want to buy an AirRunner?
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