How To Use Proper Form on a Treadmill

Woman maintaining a proper form on a treadmill

Andrej Bondarchik/

By Simon Gould

Treadmill running must be the easiest of exercises. We’ve been running since we were a young child so we know what to do. You lift one foot and put it in front of the other and repeat. However running on a treadmill is slightly different. The ground moves beneath you and is powered by a motor, the running deck is small.

We need to make sure we run with proper form to make sure we get no aches and injuries. Over time we may develop bad habits and this can affect our performance. This is especially the case on a treadmill where you’re confined. So here we go through how to run with good form with some tips you may not have considered before.

11 Tips for good treadmill form

1. Look Ahead

Only use the hand rails to balance or in an emergency. You need to look straight ahead and not at the ground/floor. This needs some concentration especially when you start running on a treadmill but not looking down is better for you and your performance. You wouldn’t look down when you’re running naturally outside and it’s the same on a treadmill as well.

If you’re worried about your safety, the emergency stop safety key should be attached to you. This means if anything happens, the treadmill will stop. This prevents any injuries that may occur from a moving belt. By all means look at the console occasionally, that’s what it’s there for, but keep your head up and stand tall. Stay this way even if you’re feeling fatigued.

2. Relax Your Arms

As you run, relax your arms and shoulders. You don’t really want to tense up any part of your body as you run. Your arms will need to swing but they do that from your shoulders and it should feel like a natural motion. You shouldn’t clench your fists either, this will use far too much energy especially in long runs and is not something you need to.

There will be a bend in your arms from the elbow. Maintain the bend at the same degree as you run and it should feel comfortable and use no additional energy. Whether you’re walking or running, don’t hold on to the handrails. Your form is affected if you do and your workout is less effective. You’ll burn less calories and you could injure yourself.

3. Land Mid foot

This is especially the case on a treadmill. With the belt moving beneath you, you don’t want to land on your toes, you could easily lose your footing and fall. The same can be said with landing on your heel, either may feel more comfortable but if you want to run quickly and/or for long distances you need to run in the most natural motion possible.

Landing on your mid foot is the largest surface area of your foot and then you push off from the toes. Runners tend to land mid foot outside, so it’s what you should do on a treadmill as well. If you’re walking then you go heel first. This is obvious and something we all do. Make sure you do this on an incline as well.

4. Check Your Posture

This should really be accomplished by doing the first recommendation, looking ahead. You need to run straight and upright, you need to stand tall as you run and not hunch your shoulders. Keep your back straight and allow yourself to breath as and when you need to. Treadmills can sometimes be in front of mirrors and this makes it ideal for checking your posture as you run.

You can always position a cell phone to record you as you exercise. Then you can see if anything looks unnatural in the way you walk or run. You could even ask a friend or family member if anything about you looks unusual as you exercise. If you start feeling any soreness or pain, your posture could be the reason. So it’s something worth thinking about.

5. Maintain a Good Stride

Don’t lift your feet too much off the ground. This is especially the case for long, slow running. If you’re running a longer distance you don’t need to use extra energy by picking your feet up too high. If you’re sprinting then you will naturally have a high foot pick up and quick stride turnover. On a longer distance you need to conserve energy and that is by a stable, low to the ground stride but not too low, keep it natural feeling.

Whether you’re walking or running, avoid unusual stride lengths. Don’t make unnecessarily short or long strides. You need to maintain a rhythm, the deck isn’t going anywhere, so be confident in every step you take. After a while, exercising on a treadmill will be something you get used to, but we just need to make sure no bad habits creep in.

6. Breath As You Need

Some magazines say breath every stride or concentrate and make your breathing rhythmical. The thing is with breathing when exercising is not to think about it. Don’t think you’re breathing too fast or slow or you should be breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Breath as you feel you need to, your body will naturally inhale and exhale as much and when you need to.

With running you need to allow your body to get it’s oxygen as it needs and don’t try to force it in any way. As with your stride, you will breathe in a rhythmic way. By maintaining your speed, your breathing will regulate. If you’re out of breath when you don’t feel you should be, then stop. Take care of your health first and your breathing is a good sign of how your body is coping.

7. Use the Middle of The Deck

It can be tempting to run at the front of the belt so you’re nearest the console, but you shouldn’t do this. The deck and it’s cushioning have been designed for people to run in the middle. This is where you’ll get the benefits of the shock absorption which is what makes treadmills so ideal for using in the fist place. Get a feeling of where it is so you don’t need to keep looking down.

8. Run as you would outside

Try to make the way you run exactly as you do outside. This is the secret to good form. You need to try to not think about the restrictive area you have to run on, and run as naturally as possible. It feels different from running outside, but your posture and form shouldn’t be any different. If you want to have the same energy expenditure as running outside, then set the incline to 1%.

9. Don’t run when you’re fatigued

When our muscles are tired and fatigued our form tends to suffer. We try and use additional muscles to propel us, these muscles aren’t usually used for running. Our stride can change and we start slouching forward. We’re trying to get our last bit of energy to complete whatever distance and speed. Build up the intensity of your runs gradually so fatigue doesn’t occur.

If you’re running long distances or training for them. Then increase the long run by a mile per week or 10 minutes if you run by time. This will help the body adapt to the new stress you’re putting it under. This is the same with any speed training you might be doing. Treadmills are ideal for this, but form can suffer when you near the end of the routine, so plan in advance a gradual build up.

10. Strengthen your muscles

The four most common weak areas that affect runners are hips, glutes, ankles and hamstrings. Weakness in these areas affect our performance and can cause overuse injuries to occur more easily. Strengthening them will ensure you run with proper form. Ideally the lower body strength machines in a gym should be your go to. Any weight baring anaerobic exercise is what we’re after for these areas.

Stronger calves help protect the ankles. You don’t need to do much strength training, once or twice a week is sufficient. A nice benefit of this is your speed will increase, especially if you wanted to accelerate during a long run. You can do some body weight exercises at home, but you really need additional weights to get the additional strength you need to make a difference.

11. Get proper running shoes

If you’re thinking about your form you probably have proper running shoes already. What you might not have done is gone to an expert or professional running shoe shop to have them personally fitted. They should have a camera to record the way you run, then they will analyze the type of foot you have, then make a recommendation for the best running shoes for you.

You usually only need to do this once and it can make a big difference to your running form. Make sure to replace them every 300 miles or 6 months, whichever is sooner. Running shoes can degrade quite quickly whether they’re used a lot or not. They represent a good investment if you’re serious about running and are the only gear you really need.

Professional gait analysis

Just like you may want to get fitted for proper running shoes, you may want a professional to look at your running form. Running on a treadmill may have affected your running technique, or they may spot something you do on a treadmill that you don’t do outside. This would usually be done by a physical therapist who specializes in sport and biomechanics.

If you’re getting injured a lot, this is something you may want to consider. It’s a way of ruling everything out and they could have some excellent advice you may not have thought of. You may only need an hour or so and it could prove invaluable. Some sports universities would be happy to have a runner for their students to analyze.

Benefits of proper running form on a treadmill

Proper running form is important because bad technique can have repercussions that could last for years. Over time you could be damaging joints and tendons. Some of these don’t heal well or very quickly. Professional sports people often have knee or hip replacements when they get older. Good form ensures you run at maximum efficiency and this is best for your body.

These are extreme examples and the regular treadmill runner will probably not have permanent injuries. But if it improves your performance and you can run pain free, then it’s something worth considering. It means you can spend more time running and less time recovering from minor injuries like runner’s knee or shin splints.

Final thoughts

Good form is something that you need whether you run outside or on a treadmill. If you run with other people you may be able to see how form can affect other runners if they’re not doing it right. Form is often something that goes when you try and run with an injury. To compensate your form will suffer and you’ll develop bad habits.

If you’re serious about running and you do a lot of it on a treadmill, then make sure you’re doing it the right way. Running and exercise in general should be a big part of our lives and it shouldn’t be causing us problems. We should be feeling the runners high and we can get that by running with proper form on our treadmills.

Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked.

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