Following our cautionary notes about normal motorised treadmills - we bring you a different alternative: the Curved Mechanical treadmills. While only starting to pick up steam recently, this has the interest of many coaches and professionals.
Once again, let us look at the pros and cons compared to a normal motorised treadmill and real running.
If you haven’t checked out our post regarding motorised treadmills, read here. The main concern about normal motorised treadmills, is that it does not replicate real running, allowing you to overstride and equate upwards movement (hopping/jumping) to be counted as forward movement because the treads keep running as you are in the air. This would not be realistic in real running, as in real running that does not bring you forwards. In other words, motorised treadmills give you too much “freedom” of things you can do to be counted as a forward distance - you can run “however” you want and it will still be “counted”.
How are curved mechanical treadmills different?
Firstly, it is mechanical. This means the tread does not have a motor to run on its own, the runner has to push it backwards. This means that only a backwards momentum from your legs would count towards your forward distance, like in real running. Upwards movement does not count as forward distance as it does not push the tread backwards. The curve of the treadmill makes it such that if you overstride too far forward for your speed, the runner will tend to “fall backward”. The curved treadmill forces you to run in a way that does not have too much upward movement and overstriding; it limits “how” you can run, the complete opposite of a motorised treadmill. We also call this a self-limiting exercise. If you cannot run well on the curved mechanical treadmill, that means you are unable to push backwards well or poorly overstriding.
How does this compare with real running?
A normal motorised treadmill will allow you similar freedom of running technique as real running, however, poor running technique will still be “rewarded” with distance. This can be used as an assessment for a coach or clinician to see how your “normal” running looks like, as the treadmill does not force you to run in a “certain” way.
The curved mechanical treadmill is the opposite, it forces you to run in a way that is encouraged by the treadmill - pushing backwards onto the tread and not overstriding. It can be used to improve running technique, or a different type of assessment tool. Rather than assessing how you normally run, it assesses how well you can run by pushing backwards and not overstriding - which is relevant for real running. Real running will give you a similar freedom to normal motorised running, but will only reward you with distance when you push backward, just like in a curved mechanical treadmill.
To conclude, the curved mechanical treadmill is not real solid ground running. However, it does not give you the freedom to run however you want - a normal motorised treadmill does that. However, the curved mechanical treadmill will only reward you for backwards pushing of the ground/tread, just like real running. Hence, both can be useful tools depending on how they are used, and at the end of the day neither of them would replace running on solid ground completely.