Your body is designed to run long and short distances without the painful effects of impact. By finding and practicing a natural gait and a good pace for yourself on a treadmill, you can reduce all types of impact-related stress to your legs and back, especially in the lumbar spine or lower back. Running incorrectly can cause damage from repeated impact to many parts of your body. However, you can cultivate a natural run that is healthy for your muscles and bones and is virtually pain-free.
Beginning a Treadmill Routine
Start by stretching the muscles in your legs and back. Place your heels together and straighten your legs, then slowly bend forwards and allow your arms to hang down towards your toes. Do not overstretch your back and hamstrings, and do not bounce beyond your maximum. This stretch will release tension in the lumbar spine and get your leg muscles warmed up for the workout.
Start your run with a midfoot or forefoot gait. Shorten each step to avoid landing on your heel, and follow the initial forefoot or midfoot strike by bringing your heel lightly to rest behind it. Your legs should remain mostly below your shoulders. Practice stepping as lightly as possible, allowing your muscles to absorb the impact of each step.
As your pace increases, maintain the forefoot or midfoot strike. Avoid pronating to the outside or inside of your foot. Relax your arms, and keep your wrists loose. Your body's relaxed state will allow for your foot, calf, and thigh muscles to compensate for the impact of your run, preventing the lumbar spine and lower back muscles from absorbing impact. A natural gait takes practice to execute correctly.
- If you are a new runner, you can slowly increase the strength in your feet and calves by walking casually in your minimalist shoes when not exercising.
- Minimalist shoes use muscles in your feet that may be especially weak for new runners. Begin with a very short running routine, and slowly build to longer runs over several months. If you feel pain in your achilles tendons, calf muscles, or if back pain persists over several workouts, ask a doctor or chiropractor if it's safe to continue using the treadmill. Never ignore a serious pain response.
Max Roman Dilthey is a science, health and culture writer currently pursuing a master's of sustainability science. Based in Massachusetts, he blogs about cycling at MaxTheCyclist.com.