Where I coach athletes, the most notorious piece of equipment is by far the non-motorized treadmill. It has claimed the title for causing the most vomiting of any single station the athletes use in their training. However, as we all know, puking isn’t a good gauge of anything in fitness. What we want to know is how good a given tool is for athleticism. In a study this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, investigators examined the use of the non-motorized treadmill as a testing tool for sprinting.
Coaches perform a variety of assessments to determine placement and conditioning needs. However, determining the need for power training can be too difficult for most coaches to accurately assess. For sprinters, track sprinting doesn’t tell the coach what the athlete’s actual power output is. This forces the coaches to rely on experience and an educated guess.
Because sprinting itself doesn’t help coaches determine a power training prescription for athletes, other methods are traditionally employed. Sprinting on a bicycle and vertical leap are two of the usual methods. However, these tests are quite different from actual running, which makes them only moderately good as power tests. The researchers in this study speculated that the non-motorized treadmill might make for a better test, since it directly measures power output in conditions similar to actual running.
This idea almost seems like a no-brainer. If you have the option to use a non-motorized treadmill to measure power output, then why not just go with that option? The problem lies in the surface, which is different from that used in sport conditions. The treadmill the researchers used in this study also had a curved track. This alters stride quite a bit, but certainly not to a degree that makes it less like actual running than an exercise bike.
The researchers found there was a relationship between treadmill power and running performance in the 30m sprint, which was the race distance they chose to study. They even compared this to the vertical leap test, and the treadmill test outperformed the jump as a testing tool. Incidentally, the researchers also took other standard athletic measurements and found that higher body mass (both lean and otherwise) and greater height was associated with better performances, whereas fat mass was the opposite.
To give you an idea of the importance of this tool, the strength of the correlation from the 40m and 50m treadmill times were about as strong as that of fat mass. This means treadmill sprinting times can predict good performance as much as extra body fat predicts poor performance in running. That’s a pretty strong indicator.
So we know that the non-motorized treadmill is a good assessment tool. The question remains as to whether or not it’s a good training tool as well. I think it’s similar enough to competitive running that it may boost the performance of at least beginner runners, if not more experienced athletes. Only future science will be able to tell if this hypothesis holds up, especially for elite athletes, who require more specific training to improve.
1. Gerald Mangine, et. al., “Speed, Force and Power Values Produced From A Non-Motorized Treadmill Test Are Related to Sprinting Performance,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000316.
Photo courtesy of Woodway.