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A woman on a treadmill.

A treadmill is an exercise machine for running or walking while staying in one place. The word treadmill traditionally refers to a type of mill which was operated by a person or animal treading steps of a wheel to grind grain (see treadwheel.)

The machine provides a moving platform with a wide conveyor belt and an electric motor or a flywheel. The belt moves to the rear allowing a person to walk or run an equal, and necessarily opposite, velocity. The rate at which the belt moves is the rate of walking or running. Thus, the speed of running may be controlled and measured. The more expensive, heavy-duty versions are motor-driven. The simpler, lighter, and less expensive versions passively resist the motion, moving only when the walker pushes the belt with their feet.

Contents

Origins

Treadmills were historically used as a method of reforming offenders in prison, an innovation introduced by Sir William Cubitt in 1817.[1]; these were also termed treadwheels. The first private health club in the U.S. was started by Professor Louis Attila in 1894. Cardio workout machines entered the clubs much later and were developed initially for the hospital. The first medical treadmill designed to diagnose heart and lung disease was invented by Dr. Robert Bruce and Wayne Quinton at the University of Washington in 1952. Dr. Kenneth Cooper's research on the benefits of aerobic exercise, published in 1968, provided a medical argument to support the commercial development of the home treadmill and exercise bike.

Advantages

Row of treadmills in use

As a cardiovascular exercise:

  • Treadmills offer the benefit of reduced impact since all treadmills offer some sort of shock absorption. Exercising on a treadmill can reduce the strain to the ankles, knees and lower back that would be involved in running on a normal surface.[2]

As an indoor activity:

  • Users who would not run/walk outdoors (e.g. due to unfavorable weather conditions, uneven road surfaces, dangerous neighborhoods or unwanted attention) may use an indoor treadmill.[2]
  • Users who do not wish to join a gym may use an indoor treadmill at home.
  • Users can do other things while exercising, such as watching television or reading.

As a machine:

  • Enables exact calculation and adjustment of slope and speed.
  • As many of the factors of the activity are known, the energy expended may be calculated.
  • Some treadmills have special features such as step count, heart rate monitors, and number of calories expended.

Disadvantages

As a cardiovascular exercise:

  • Running on treadmills is easier than running on an equivalently flat distance outdoors because the ground is pulled beneath you and there is no wind resistance. Studies measuring the difference find that an average person running between 5 miles per hour (8.0 km/h) and 9 miles per hour (14 km/h) will expend between 0 and 5 percent more energy running outdoors. A person running outdoors faster than 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) (6 minute mile pace) will expend up to 10% more energy than an indoor runner. Treadmills can approximate the additional effort of running outdoors by setting the incline to 1%.[3]
  • Some treadmill runners develop bad running habits that become apparent when they return to outdoor running. In particular a short, upright, bouncy gait may result from having no wind resistance and trying to avoid kicking the motor covering with the front of the foot.[2]
  • Imposes a strict pace on runners, giving an unnatural feel to running which can cause a runner to lose balance.

As an indoor activity:

  • Many users find treadmills monotonous and lose interest after a period.[4][2]
  • Treadmills do not offer the psychological satisfaction some runners get from running in new locations away from the distractions of home.[2]

As a machine:

  • Treadmill calorie counters overestimate the number of calories burned by up to 15-20%, according to some reports.[5]
  • May cause personal injury if not used properly. Of particular concern are children who reach into the treadmill belt while it is running and suffer severe friction burns that may require multiple skin grafts and result in lasting disability.[6]
  • Cost of purchase, electrical costs, and possible repair is significantly greater than running outside.[2]
  • Takes up space in homes.[2]
  • Can make a loud grinding noise if the belt keeps slipping.

Other uses

Steers on a treadmill

As it is basically a conveyor belt, the treadmill can be used for activities other than running. If horses are being tested (especially in jockey racing) they will be put on a specially constructed treadmill. Large treadmills can also accommodate cars. Treadmills can also be used to exercise dogs that are accustomed to running on a conveyor; however avoid tying the leash to the treadmill as it can cause serious injury.

Omnidirectional treadmill

Advanced applications are so called omnidirectional treadmills. They are designed to move in two dimensions and are intended as the base for a "holodeck". There are several solutions which were proposed and research continues because some issues remain unsolved, such as large size, noise and vibration.

See also

References

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