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This Cutting-Edge Treadmill Matches Your Pace

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Pretty much every runner agrees that running outside beats slogging miles on the treadmill. You get to enjoy nature, breathe in fresh air, and get a better workout. "When you run outdoors, you change your speed all the time without even thinking about it," explains Steven Devor, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology at Ohio State University. This unintentional (but highly beneficial) perk is why Dover and his team came up with a genius idea. (Put some love into your mostly hate relationship: 5 Reasons to Love the Treadmill.)

Devor, along with Cory Scheadler, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Northern Kentucky University, created a treadmill that mimics how we run naturally, automatically adjusting the belt speed to match your running pace. You speed up, the treadmill speeds up—no button pressing or action required on your part. Being able to control your own pace may sound like a small benefit, but when it comes to running efficiently, our bodies are pretty smart; using a machine that matches your speed is one small advantage that can help you not only run farther, but be more comfortable (as comfortable as you can be on the dreadmill, that is).

How does it work? A sonar device on the treadmill tracks your distance and movement toward or away from it, then relays the information to a computer which controls the motor to change the speed. It's complicated, cutting-edge technology, but Devor assures that the end result is seamless. 

"No matter how fast or slow you go, it will keep you in the center of the treadmill. The computer instantly responds to your change [in speed] and the adjustment is so natural you won't even notice it, just like outside," Devor says. And if you're having flashbacks to every treadmill faceplant video you've ever seen on Youtube, think again: Devor and Scheadler tested it on an elite runner, and not even he could trick the machine with a sudden sprint. And when you stop running, the belt stops as well.

This ability to go from slow to fast and everything in between will revolutionize high-intensity interval training, Devor predicts. (See 8 Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training.) Instead of having to program the machine for intervals, guessing at your pace and risking injury, you can sprint naturally whenever you're ready. It also means that you can get a more accurate reading when testing your VO2 max (widely considered the gold standard of aerobic fitness) or your max heart rate, as evidenced in a research paper the team recently published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

In the end though, it's still just a tool, and what you get out of it depends on how you use it. "We'd like fewer people to think of it as a 'dreadmill.' The more it's like running naturally, the more people will want to use it to workout," Devor adds.

Unfortunately, you can't request an automated treadmill at your local gym just yet as the patent-pending device is still in the development phase, but Devor is hopeful that they will find a company to start producing it for public use—just in time for next winter, we hope! Until then, kick up your old routine with 6 New Ways to Burn Calories on a Treadmill (sorry, button pressing is required).

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