Are Treadmills Accurate For Speed and Miles?

Treadmills are accurate in both speed and miles. They can be perceived as inaccurate when running at a 0% incline. Perceived speed and distance are more similar on a treadmill compared to outdoor running with a 1% incline.

There’s a question about treadmill accuracy that makes us all wonder if we’re really good runners or if treadmills are not accurate in tracking speed or tracking distance.

Why would a treadmill feel inaccurate?

Running on treadmills is highly beneficial. Many studies show treadmill running has similar or almost the same benefits as running outdoors when it comes to weight loss or energy expenditure.

But why does it feel you can’t run as much as on the treadmill when running on pavement or in the park outside of the house?

  • You can’t replicate the same running speed outdoors

The first associated problem with running outdoors vs running on a treadmill accuracy is that you cannot run at the same speed you run on the treadmill. No matter how much you train, you can’t maintain that treadmill speed.

  • You can’t replicate the same running distance outdoors

Does 1 mile on a treadmill equal 1 mile of outdoor running? It turns out you can also doubt your abilities to replicate running distance outdoors vs running distance on the treadmill.

  • Your cadence is poor when running outdoors

Treadmills are very good at tracking cadence. Still, some people are unable to run at the same pace outdoors.

Are treadmill miles accurate?

Treadmill mires are accurate in distance. 1 treadmill mile equates to 1 mile of outdoor running.

Treadmill miles can feel inaccurate as running on the treadmill is easier (even if it has the same benefits as outdoor running).

Since running on a treadmill is easier 1-mile running results outdoors can differ from 1 mile running results on a treadmill.

A few reasons why this happens include.

  • Treadmills offer cushioned running

Apart from sagittal plane kinematics, there is no real difference between running on a treadmill and running outdoors.

However, the running surface is often overlooked by studies and those who feel treadmill miles aren’t accurate.

Simply put, you run on a softer often dampened surface on the treadmill compared to the ground you run outdoors. This creates the impression that a mile on a treadmill is shorter than an outdoor running mile.

  • There’s no wind resistance when running indoors

Wind resistance can be a factor that diminishes the impression of running distance or that makes you believe you actually run more when running on the treadmill indoors. Wind resistance has a small actual impact on running.

Is treadmill speed accurate?

Treadmill speed is very accurate given it’s measured by a sensor that tracks the running belt’s movements. It can be perceived as inaccurate when compared to outdoor running speed which has more variables. Some of these variables can be categorized as follows.

  • The treadmill controls the running speed

Cadence is hard to accurately maintain when running outdoors. Perceived running speed and perceived running cadence both face more variables when running outdoors which includes temperature, running surface, ground angle, and even elevation.

All of these can act to make you think your running efforts on a treadmill are insignificant when compared to running outdoors.

However, running skills and treadmill accuracy are reliable, the main difference is that running on a treadmill has fewer variables.

How to track treadmill accuracy

You can track treadmill accuracy the easiest by comparing it to outdoor running. For this, you’ll need a stopwatch or a smartwatch as well as to adjust the treadmill’s angle for a bit more resistance.

  • Use a stopwatch

A stopwatch is an ideal tool to help you track outdoor running. Elapsed running time is shown by default on a treadmill but you might be incorrectly estimating it outdoors without a stopwatch.

  • Use a smartwatch

A smartwatch is one of the best tools to help you accurately track running distance and cadence to compare with the results you have on a treadmill. Are treadmill calories accurate? You can use a smartwatch that shows calorie burning when running to see if your treadmill is truly accurate.

  • Add at least 1% incline

Some studies suggest adding at least a 1% incline on your treadmill for better representation of outdoor running. This will add running resistance making you feel a bit more like on the treadmill when running outdoors.

Summary

Treadmills accurately track running speed. You can measure the running speed by using a smartwatch or you can run in very specific indoor conditions and track efforts with a timer to confirm this yourself. Running outdoors will have very different results as there are more variables.

Treadmills accurately track running distance. One mile on the treadmill is exactly as long as one mile of outdoor running. Variables of outdoor running might make you perceive different differently.

Outdoor running is impacted by multiple variables which sometimes make it hard to run as fast or as long as on a treadmill.

Sources

Is Motorized Treadmill Running Biomechanically Comparable to Overground Running? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cross-Over Studies: Sports Med

Treadmill and Running Speed Effects on Acceleration Impacts: Curved Non-Motorized Treadmill vs. Conventional Motorized Treadmill: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Effect of treadmill versus overground running on the structure of variability of stride timing: Perceptual and Motor Skills

A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running: Journal of Sports Sciences

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