Treadmills bad for hamstrings and glutes?

The following article appears on T-nation:

Myth: Sweating on a treadmill is just as good as sweating outside.

Mythbuster: Alwyn Cosgrove
In the past people moved more and their exercise programs were well rounded, but recently more people have switched to doing treadmill-only workouts for their cardio. Whether they think it’s better for their joints or because they’re closet vampires who can’t…stand…the light! and never want to venture outside, I’m not sure.

What I am sure of is that steady-state cardio on the treadmill is just fucking stupid. And, no, I’m not going to rehash the old argument about how intervals burn more calories. You already know that.

Instead I’m going to do some math.

Walking a mile is about two thousand reps in the sagittal plane at about one and a half to two times your bodyweight. Jogging would be around fifteen hundred total reps at about two to three times your bodyweight.

And since the treadmill switches your hamstring and glutes off — your foot hits the belt and the belt pulls you through — it’s mainly a quad exercise.

So let’s say a client does three miles three times per week for one year (and I’m being conservative).

That’s 6000 reps x 3 days per week x 52 weeks, which equals 936,000 reps of knee extension work. Or 468,000 reps per leg.

Let’s say the load going through with the knee was a measly 100 pounds. That’s 4.6 million pounds of work for the quad with absolutely no hamstring work.

Think of it this way: if you did 400,000 reps of triceps extensions with 100 pounds you’d get four million pounds of volume. If you didn’t balance that out with biceps curls you’d expect the elbow joint to hurt, right? You’re damn straight it would!

So long term walking or running on the treadmill is almost guaranteeing knee pain. And that’s not even the worst part. Since the hamstring is switched off you’re actually burning even less calories than you would if you were to walk on the ground!

This study showed that hip flexion angle increases on the treadmill as opposed to the ground and that stance time was reduced. Basically, the whole hip extensor mechanism is affected; hip and knee flexion angles have to increase to bring the hip through on the stride. So hip flexor fatigue plus substitution patterns equals severe knee pain.

Ten or twenty years ago we’d get away with this because our clients ran outside and did other activities. The contribution of treadmill time to total exercise time was much lower. It’s hardly the case today.

One of the problems with low intensity steady-state aerobics for fat loss in the deconditioned population is the sheer amount of reps needed. I can do a bodyweight circuit and spread the “reps” over the whole body and get a similar metabolic effect.

At my gym we’ve always done interval training as we felt the results were superior, but over time we’ve moved to a “metabolic resistance training” model.

For example, one mile on the treadmill would be 1500 reps and burn around 100 calories. If you did a circuit of kettlebell swings, undulating ropes, inverted rows, sled pushes, and burpees for four rounds with 10 to 15 reps each, you’d burn 100 calories in less time with less load, and the reps would be spread over the entire body instead of on the ankles, knees, and hips. It’s just a superior model.


This may have been discussed before, but is this true? Do treadmills have this effect on the hams and glutes? I think charlie said he would have a treadmill in his basement, and use it for Tempo, if the ceiling was higher and the ventilation was better.

And Ingrid Kristiensen did most of her training on a treadmill due to severe weather conditions in norway.

What do other people think?

Treadmills are ok for tempo but not speed work. The article implies that you are using TMs for all. Alwin’s originally from Scotland, so he relishes the weather in California and probably wouldn’t miss a chance to get outside, but he might find a way to stay inside if he was back in Scotland!
To involve the hams more you can use an incline, or, on the flat, do straight leg bounding drills intersperced with regular running/jogging.

Thanks Charlie, I have a treadmill in my garage, which I use for tempo. I must say I had a hamstring strain recently, which hurt when I used the treadmill, so I thought the treadmill must use the Hams!.

I also had a hamstring problem that seemed to flare up at about 5-7 minutes into my run on the TM. WHile I was on vacation my cousin and I got up at 5:30 every morning and ran the foot hills of the Allegheny mtns. It was great but I thought the hammy would blow. I felt a cringe only one day. Now I do a lot more running outdoors and I always use the incline with intervals on the TM. Much better feeling in the hammies now.:cool:

Well - one of my clients (weight loss) works long day time hrs, and at night hence runs on a treadmill. He has rather sore knees that is caused from excessive tight thighs which i get him to foam roll as much as he has time for, normally at least 1x wk (so im lead to believe).
ON the wkends he runs on roads, or parks or such.
There could be merrit on the article in that flat treadmill action takes effects off the posterior chain.
Crank up the incline sounds plausible for hammie involvement.
get him to wake up early n run - mind you, its pretty darn cold here right now 1st thing in the morning.

Its interesting you should say that. My quads stay tight, I swear. I think I may have to start to do the foam roll. I am curious how much this may be contributing to soreness in my knees.
I read in a mens fitness journal that if you try a squat (no wts) with your arms raised above your head that you should be able to keep a straight posture. If not then there are several reasons why you cannot. If you lean forward, then that is the tight glutes and quads. There is more to the assessment that I cannot remember off hand.