Whilst out having drinks with some of the most brilliant ladies I know, Ciana and I found ourselves in a side conversation about treadmills. Yes, I know that in the past I have waxed annoyance with the ever-faithful treadmill, and I certainly do have plenty of reasons to prefer running in the great outdoors. As our days grow shorter and it’s too overcast to see more than a few feet in front of myself, I’ve been trying to find my stride on those mechanical beasts over at the YMCA. Last week, on my first day back on the ‘mill, I noticed that the distance counter seemed to think I was running at a 15 minute mile pace, which shocked me. I relayed this to Ciana, who agreed that she often felt misled by her ‘mills ability to log her miles correctly. So of course, I had to turn to the internet to try and find out if we were right, or if perhaps we’re just a little slower than we imagined.
First off, it’s entirely possible we’re running at a more tortisey-pace when ‘milling than when we’re outside. According to FitFAQ.com, “Because you run with less effort on a treadmill, you need to raise the elevation to at least one-percent. If you leave it at zero percent elevation, you’ll be running slower than the mile-per-hour setting indicates because you don’t have to overcome wind resistance on the treadmill. By raising the elevation, you’ll more closely match the effort required to run at that speed over land.” So, treadmill running is a bit easier to pull off, and without any sort of “terrain” to deal with, you won’t output as much unless you add resistance in some way.
On that same note, HillRunner.com even drew up a Treadmill Pace Conversions chart that shows what incline setting you should use to hit your desire mile page.
After that though, it seems that there are two firm camps as to the accuracy of distance calculated by treadmills: people in the biz will claim up-down-left-and-right that treadmills are accurate beyond all reason when it comes to calculating distance. The reason? Treadmills base their distance on revolutions of their belt (quite similar to the way your car notes distance). Assuming your treadmill is appropriately calibrated*, it should be pretty hard to get an incorrect reading of mileage.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the general consensus of regular runners is that treadmills are in no way, shape, or form accurate. Runners who can bust out a six minute mile on the track find it nearly impossible to do so on the “six minute mile” setting on the ‘mill. While several discussion boards note this discrepancy, after two hours of hunting online and scouring Google Scholar, I still can’t find a study or researched article that clearly states one way or another if treadmills are accurate in miles. Time for a call to Dr. Dad…
The inconclusive conclusion for today? While it’s unclear as to whether the miles noted on treadmills are accurate, it’s safe to say that you’re still getting a workout, correct mileage or not. So if treadmills are your thing, get on and run at a pace you can sustain for half an hour or an hour, and you’re on a healthy track. Runner’s D will do some more research, and get back to you, Ciana!
*To calibrate: tape or use chalk to draw a line or mark the belt. Measure the distance around the belt. Zero out the odometer. Press start and move it slowly counting the marks as they go by. At exactly .1 mile stop, note the number or revolutions the belt made, and measure any distance further than the mark at stopping.
You should get 6336 inches. If you don’t: divide the number you got into 6336. ie you got 6000 inches, 6336/6000=1.056.
What ever distance you run times 1.056 is the real distance. So when your tread mill reads .94 you have run a mile (in the example here).