I have the impression that when we talk about treadmills there are two types of runners: the ones that love it, always run on it as soon as the temperature goes below 50 F (10 °C) and then, the ones that totally hate it and think it’s even unethical to be a real runner and use a treadmill. Regardless of which side you are on, I want to give you a new perspective about the benefits of running on treadmill with the idea that just like most fitness equipment, the way you use it makes the difference.
The obvious advantages of treadmills
Running (just like walking) has always had the main function to move from one place to another. Duh. Yet, nowadays, with less and less time at our disposal to exercise, having an easy way to burn calories, release stress and strengthen our body is certainly a lifesaver.
Treadmills let us enjoy running and walking regardless of where we live, without having to put our health at risk by running perhaps on polluted streets or in cold weather. These obvious pros make this piece of equipment look even more precious during the time I’m writing when half of the world is in quarantine because of the corona virus. Although to me – and perhaps very few readers will disagree – running outdoors is unquestionably more pleasant than using a treadmill, what I want to show you next is that treadmills have a hidden advantage that can make a big difference not only for your running performance but also for your overall life quality.
Re-awaken your feet
In other articles [1, 2, 3], I stress the importance of keeping your feet healthy by letting them function the way they are supposed to. Regular running shoes have been harming runners since their introduction in the 70’s as they prevent foot muscles from functioning properly, receptors from sensing the ground and the overall structure from communicating correctly with the rest of the body.
An extremely valid solution to this problem consists of ditching your running shoes and starting using good minimalist shoes that allow your feet to come back to life. In spite of this, no matter how good they are (and the ones the Wise In Motion team recommends are the best on the market), no shoe design will ever be able to faithfully replicate a completely barefoot experience.
This is simply because whatever you place in between the foot sole and the ground will necessarily affect the perception of the ground itself and consequently, your running experience. Good minimalist shoes minimize this loss of sensitivity as much as possible while providing the just-right amount of protection. What will always hold true is that barefoot running or walking, if done correctly, has intrinsic benefits that can’t be achieved in any other way (I’ll be talking about this topic in a separate article).
Barefoot running and walking: an outlandish thing to do?
Well, the first answer would be “Eww! Are you crazy? It’s so dirty out there!” I did run barefoot in New York for a a few months but the only “clean” places I would go were either the inner ring of Central Park or a carefully selected 1 km-section of the boardwalk along the Hudson river. I agree that most places in any city would be quite unappealing or too risky for barefoot running or walking.
The other answer has to do with social fear. This term indicates that based on social norms, walking and running around while exposing your pretty feet is not commonly accepted and sometimes even prohibited by law for hygienic reasons. This means that no matter how excited you are to go out and walk or run barefoot, there will always be a relatively high social barrier that is quite difficult to overcome practically and psychologically.
Minimalist shoes outdoors and bare feet indoors
What I discovered over the years is that feet are extremely responsive to new stimuli. This means that once you start using them properly by freeing them from the cages you kept them in for years, the “re-awakening process” is surprisingly fast, as if they were wild animals kept in captivity for a long time that can’t wait to be released into their natural habitat.
Feet also like consistency, that’s why in order to continuously cuddle your feet, I highly recommend wearing minimalist shoes in pretty much any situation (at work, while running, hiking, dancing etc). In addition, having a treadmill for walking or running barefoot in the safest place ever – that is, your home where nobody is staring at you (except for, perhaps, nosy neighbors and your pets) – is a must if you care about the following things:
1) synergizing the beneficial effects of wearing minimalist shoes and being barefoot;
2) naturally fixing most of the common pains that runners always have (knee and back pain, plantar fasciitis, etc.);
3) strengthening foot muscles, ankles and calves without having to do boring targeted exercises;
4) enjoying barefoot running or walking without having to worry about hurting your feet or getting them dirty;
4) boosting overall fitness level and running performance;
5) doing all of the above while listening to music, watching a movie, talking on the phone, working etc;
6) doing all of the above, regardless of the crazy weather out there.
I know, it sounds very appealing and the amazing thing is that there is no catch.
One of the greatest surprises for me was when I realized that I could literally spend 12 hours on my feet walking around (in NYC you can do that for days non-stop), standing in front of dozens of people (teaching in college), chasing the bus to get home, etc. without having any sort of foot, knee or back pain at all.
Don’t think that before then I had lived in a jungle, wearing nothing but palm leaves around my waist, getting feet as strong as the ones of a monkey. Just like the vast majority of people, I had involuntarily tortured and weakened my feet for more than two decades by using regular shoes.
By wearing minimalist shoes in combination with the right amount of regular barefoot walking/running on a treadmill, I boosted my overall fitness level with exceptionally positive implications on my life quality. I was able to override the harm I was doing to myself, learn more and more about my own body and enter a new phase of my life as a runner, sports lover and health-minded person.
I hope you too will join me in this path of self-discovery.
Please share questions and hopes with me.
Live Wise. Live in motion.