Like with anything repetitious, there is an inherent risk of injury, and treadmill running is no exception. Knee pain is as common an injury for triathletes as shoulder pain is for a baseball pitcher.
Vary Your Workout
When you run outside, there are small undulations that require your body to engage different muscles to propel you forward, making you a stronger, more injury-resistant runner. You won’t be able to add a slightly irregular surface to your treadmill workout, but altering speed or incline throughout your run every minute or two will help combat the machine’s consistency.
Pay Attention to Your Running Mechanics
Running mechanics change slightly on the treadmill because you are in a relatively stationary position. Your foot will initially act more as a brake. Listen to the sounds that your feet make when they strike the treadmill—they should be quiet and quick. And avoid over-striding; make sure your foot strikes directly underneath your hip.
Most people neglect a warm-up. Would you do the same on race day? And because it is running, you figure, “I’ll just jog to get the blood flowing.” Remember: Variability is good. Instead, perform a dynamic warm-up for 5-10 minutes. Do movements like the inch worm, knee-to-chest, quad reaches, leg kicks, lateral lunges, and deep squats. This will take your joints and muscles through a large range of motion, increasing the elasticity in your tendons and ligaments, and lubricating your joints so they’re primed to work properly. Bonus: A study published in 2015 in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research showed that well-trained male runners run faster after a dynamic warm-up.
Dr. Chris Ingstad is a physical therapist, educator, author, and co-founder of Level4 Physio-Wellness-Performance in Encinitas, Calif. He is also an avid cyclist and triathlete.