Yesterday I started a five-part blog series on treadmills. In the first installment I looked at whether there were mechanical differences between treadmill and overground running. If you haven’t read the blog, the answer is yes there are differences, and these differences are magnified at higher velocities.
Now let’s look at the second question of the series:
Given that there are differences, are improvements in speed on a treadmill transferrable to improvements in speed in overground running?
I think the answer is yes…treadmill training can be of benefit to overground sprinting (at least that’s what the limited amount of research indicates). A study from (Walker, Frappier, Johnson, and Swanson, 2000) showed that the affects of training on a treadmill ARE transferrable to overground running (dislaimer- the study was performed by Frappier Acceleration). Does that mean that treadmills are preferable to overground running? I don’t think so. At least not in 99% of the scenarios you’d see as a sprint coach.
I’m not quite sure why there is such a HUGE backlash against treadmill sprinting. I personally would never use one if I had the choice between that and overground running but I think the notion that it doesn’t have the potential to improve sprint performance at all is unwarranted. The way I look at it, it’s a motor skill that is very similar to overground sprinting in movements, force output and muscle activation / coordination patterns…..much more similar than downhill running and probably more similar than stadium running. While some might say that it is this similarity (but not exactness….a ‘close but no cigar’ type of thing) is it’s downfall, I personally haven’t observed this to be the case although I’ve only worked with two athletes who used a high speed treadmill on a regular basis.