Versus: To Mill or Not To Mill

Happy Friday, runners! Sorry the Versus train missed the station last week, but I made sure we got one in this week!

Quick housekeeping item – I am now going to change the Versus schedule from weekly to every other week. There are just too many other things I want to write about, and I don’t have time to post every day, so to make more room Versus will have to be every two weeks now. This is probably for the best, since at some point I will run out of hotly-contested topics and we’d rather delay that point as long as possible!

For my third versus topic, we’re going to take on the seasonally topical debate of treadmill running: love it or leave it?


Ahh, the ‘mill. Some runners swear by it. Others just swear at it. Deemed “only as a LAST RESORT” by some and actually enjoyed by others. Many will risk snow, sleet, and frostbite before logging any miles on the human equivalent of a hamster wheel; others find it an invaluable resource that allows them to stay in shape and keep mileage up during difficult winters and tricky family schedules.

I wouldn’t say I love the treadmill, but I’m not at all against it. I don’t mind hopping on the ‘mill for a few miles here and there. If someone prefers the treadmill, or enjoys running on it, or wouldn’t be able to run without it, I say, more power to ’em.

I think the treadmill is great for is doing speed work, or any other targeted workout where you need to hit and maintain a certain pace. Because the machine is gonna make darn sure you do that. I swear by the treadmill for doing speed interval workouts. It’s not only a great alternative during bad weather, but it has some advantages too: it ensures that you are hitting and maintaining your target interval paces, you don’t have to worry about uneven terrain or less-than-ideal weather, and you have it all to yourself – no need to swerve and dodge around other runners on a crowded track.

Up until the last couple weeks, I was not lucky enough to have consistent access to a track, even in the summer. The treadmill was the only reliable way to get my speed work in. Thanks to the treadmill at my gym, I have done speed work almost every week these last couple months. You may not think it’s ideal, but I have noticed improvements in my running times since I started regularly doing treadmill speed work and, well – you can’t argue with results.

With that said, the treadmill has the lion’s share of disadvantages, too, when it comes to running. Some notable ones:

  1. It’s hard to maintain good, efficient form on the mill. For example, whenever I start a treadmill workout, I feel like I’m flying all over the place. I find it really hard to stay in a straight line at first as I struggle to get acquainted with the belt and catch up to it.
  2. It’s not the same as outdoor running. I mean, besides the obvious. When you run on the treadmill, you don’t have to push off like you do when you’re running unassisted; the moving belt does much of this work for you. Also, on a treadmill you don’t get the benefit of training yourself to run in wind resistance, varied weather conditions, or different types of terrain. This is not to say that a treadmill run can’t be beneficial; we all know it is one heck of a workout and it beats not running every day of the week and twice on Sunday. But anyone training for an outdoor race would be wise to do as much of their training as possible, well,  outdoors.
  3. It’s boring. Even if you pop in some headphones to listen to music or a podcast, the feeling of not actually going anywhere can be maddening. The passages of time and miles are achingly slower on the treadmill than they are outside. I’m sure it’s not as bad if you can plop it in front of your TV in the comfort of your own home and binge-watch Netflix while you run, but unfortunately, I don’t have this luxury.

So, in sum: I am what I like to call selectively pro-treadmill. It’s great for certain types of workouts, but in my opinion, it’s not a good one-size-fits-all method for the variety of running workouts in a runner’s training regimen. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that I’m simply not anti-treadmill. I’m very grateful that it exists because otherwise I would not have been able to keep up with my speed work in the off season, but honestly, I don’t care to use it for anything else. And having access to an indoor track now pretty much eliminates any need I have to use the treadmill. But, still, mad props to the mill. It’s a good thing.


YOUR TURN! Treadmill: love it or leave it?

What do you use the treadmill for? Is there anything you will NOT use it for?


13 thoughts on “Versus: To Mill or Not To Mill

  1. I agree. I like that I can use the treadmill, but I like outside the best. I find the treadmill is GREAT for speed work. I feel like it really helps with cadence. My cadence is way faster on the treadmill than outside, but my speed is faster outside. (push-off?)
    The motivation of the numbers/paces can be good–constant feedback.
    The boredom–ugh. I don’t know how to overcome that, we will just call it building mental toughness!

    1. Yes, mental toughness for the win! I think my cadence also quickens on the mill, but I never would have noticed that if you hadn’t brought it up!

  2. See, I personally would NOT use it for speed work. (I mean, unless the weather was bad.) Sure, I can plug in the pace I want to hit, but for me I think it is important for my body to hit that pace without relying on the machine to show me what it is. But that is just a personal preference. Of course my GARMIN is showing me what it is, but I am physically getting myself there on my own.

    That being said, if someone said to me, “you can never run again unless it is on the treadmill” you better believe I would invest in a treadmill. I would run less, but I would still run. 🙂

    1. Re: speed work – I don’t disagree, it is important to be able to hit a certain pace on your own. But sometimes you just can’t quite get there on your own, and that’s where the treadmill can help – it forces you to push outside your comfort zone and creep up to paces you weren’t able to get to by yourself. This does start to make you faster. Obviously it’s a short-term solution to getting up to those paces on your own eventually, but if you have strict time goals for intervals it can help to have that extra push to ensure you’re hitting them.

      That said, it’s still not the speed work norm for me. I’d pick the track over the mill any day, but I can’t deny that the mill has helped me get faster.

  3. Oh man, I am strongly in one camp. If someone said I could never run again unless it was on a treadmill… I probably wouldn’t run much. Seriously. I just don’t consider it to be the same thing. It takes away everything I like about running (being outside, getting to see the neighborhood or explore new ones, variations in conditions and weather and people watching) and adds in everything I don’t (boring repetition, increased sweatiness, no freedom). It only hurts things that outside I don’t do headphones, but I can’t stand the thought of not wearing them inside, so that’s yet again another layer of discomfort.

    All that said, yesterday I caved. I’m in Indiana for work again and it was cold and super windy and I could hardly see anything because of the blowing snow. So, I ran on the treadmill. It was a very long 45 minutes. I’m hoping that today will be better so I can do my long tempo run outside, but so far it isn’t looking great for that. fingers crossed!

    1. I think I might agree with you. If someone told me the only way I could ever run again was on the mill, I might start looking into other forms of exercise for hobby because you’re right, it kind of defeats the whole purpose – fresh air, the thrill of getting somewhere by foot that you only thought you’d ever get by car, etc. Although I wouldn’t swear off the mill forever. Oddly enough, sometimes it really does hit the spot. One time this summer, I ran on the mill even though it was nice out. I just really wanted to do a treadmill run for some reason. It was weird.

  4. I love this post! You make a really good argument for treadmills, despite my great inner resistance. Because SF weather is mild year round (and rain is infrequent…hello, drought), I only run outside. I like doing intervals on the treadmill, but I wholeheartedly agree with you that it’s not the same. Case in point: speed work outside can make my core hurt, but my core’s never sore from treadmill speed work.

    If it were bellow zero degrees here, I would run on a treadmill for sure.

  5. I flip flop back and forth when it comes to the treadmill. I go through periods where I do ALL of my runs on the treadmill, and then periods where I do none of my runs on the treadmill.

    During the summer I’m pretty staunchly pro-treadmill because it’s so damn hot out here even before the sun rises. I hate having to carry water with me on runs, so I tend to end up on the mill. I have a 70oz Camelbak so I CAN do my long runs outside, but it takes me a good mile or two to get into a run when I’m carrying that thing!

  6. I seriously dislike the treadmill but I keep my gym membership just so I have access to one during the winter. Not because it’s cold but because it’s dark. That said, it does take the guess work of speed work. I can set the pace and just see how long I can maintain it. But the fact that daylight savings is just over two weeks away makes me ridiculously happy.

  7. I hate the treadmill. I feel like I’m suffering like 10 x more than I do outside. Even watching TV or listening to music, I just can’t get my mind to think about anything but how much I hate being on a treadmill. However, in the midwest, you kind of have to do it every once in a while. I don’t like to risk injury from falling on ice, and with the weather we’ve been having, ice is pretty common. I can assure you, though, every minute I’m on a treadmill, I’m counting down until I’m done.

  8. I saw great results last year when doing 99% of my speed-work on the treadmill 🙂 I don’t love it, but doing something, playing with speed, incline, etc…sure helps. About 30 minutes is okay, but I have done an hour, it takes mental toughness for me lol I use it more in the summer, my old system does not like heat.
    Right now I am afraid to get on the mill, because while injured that was the one place I felt the most discomfort.

  9. I find if I have access to a treadmill, especially in summer, I’ll use it. It’s too tempting for me and it doesn’t condition me like outdoor running does, so I try to avoid it. Otherwise I get lazy and choose the ‘mill over 100 degree weather!

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