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Is Running Good or Bad for Your Body?

Basic human mechanics and anatomy suggest that we are upright creatures designed to walk and run. So how can something like jogging be bad for you? The lowdown concerning running on a treadmill or running outside is that, yes, running can be too stressful — if your body isn’t prepared to run.

Most of us our not structurally built to run long distances. For that matter, most of us are not structurally sound to run at all. We now live in an environment where we sit all day, rarely moving at all. We develop poor posture and bad mechanics, and then we expect to easily run when we need to.

I hate to break it to you, but you can’t just jump right into something when your body is so far out of alignment and physically screwed up. You must start building your body up structurally, so it can handle the stress you put on it.

Running on treadmills or outdoors can carry great health benefits, but running long distance is a lot like typing all day without breaks. It creates too much repetitive movement, typically overstressing the body and causing injury.

Our bodies are not designed to do too much of any repetition, and that includes running long distances. Did you realize that’s how the marathon actually got its name? At the end of the Trojan War, a soldier ran to the town of Marathon to announce the end of the battles. The distance he ran happened to be 26.3 miles — and as soon as he got there and make his big announcement, he DIED. All that running was too much stress for his body to handle.

I’m not saying that you are physically incapable of running a marathon, but no one’s body is really designed to run long distances. For one thing, when you run long distances, your body eats up your protein (muscle) for energy as it prepares the body to store fat.

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Creating a Good Treadmill Regimen

Treadmills are a great source of cardio exercise because they allow you to run indoors on a padded surface. A treadmill can benefit your body in many ways. This is no to say that running outdoors is not beneficial. Any movement is almost always better than no movement.

Just as with any exercise program, when beginning a treadmill program, start slowly — you don’t want to kill yourself. Begin by walking consistently for 30 minutes. Once you achieve 30 minutes, note the “distance” you walked, and set a goal to beat that distance next time.

As you continue to increase your distance, you will soon hit a point where you can’t really improve any further. At that time, increase the incline to create an uphill workout; then improve on that distance. Once you feel accomplished there, begin jogging, and then running.

For the greatest effect, run at intervals on your treadmill. This means running very quickly for 60 seconds or less — when you stop, you will likely feel like you are hyperventilating or gasping for air. Don’t panic — this is exactly the effect you should expect with this type of high-intensity exercise. Walk for up to 60 seconds until you recover, and then repeat this process 10 to 20 times. Your goal should be to reduce the recovery time with each repetition.

This use of a treadmill will burn many calories and get fat to fly right off your body. Interval training allows you to achieve much more effective fat loss than the traditional training method of running for long durations at you target heart rate and it will get you leaner more quickly.

You must be structurally sound and in fairly good shape to handle this treadmill program, because it is quite intense and increases the heart rate very quickly. This is the regimen a sprinter (low body fat and lots of muscle) would follow. Treadmills are a great way to get in your workout during the extreme heat of a desert summer — or during long cold winters where the low temps actually drop below 40 degrees.

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What to Look for in a Treadmill

Before purchasing your treadmill, you must know how much and what type of training you will perform on it. Lower cost treadmills tend to break down quickly if you weigh more than 180 pounds or use them for more than walking and light jogging. A heavier person requires a higher-end treadmill because of the force they produce and the high demands they place on the treadmill’s motor and belt. Lower end treadmills simply can’t handle that kind of abuse. For older ladies who just want to perform some light walking, a lower quality, low-cost treadmill should be fine.

Treadmills range in price from a couple hundred bucks to a few thousand dollars. As with most things, you get what you pay for. If you want a higher level of conditioning, purchase a higher-end treadmill. In the long run, spending the extra thousand dollars will get you a treadmill that will last 10 to 20 years, compared with spending several hundred dollars and getting one that will last only a few years. The choice is yours — invest your money wisely.

If your regular cardio schedule requires at least three sessions weekly (and if you want it to be effective, it should!), purchase a higher quality treadmill that will endure your constant use. Before you buy, commit to putting in the time and doing the work, because  this is the only way you are going to see results. If you don’t make a commitment before you make your purchase, all you will have gained is a bulky, expensive clothes rack.

Spend the extra money to purchase a machine with a 2 to 2.5 HP continuous motor and a heavy-duty belt. Make sure the treadmill you purchase has at least a 10 percent incline and a 10 mph speed setting. Professional athletes will want an even higher-end treadmill — preferably one that will advance to at least 15 mph with an incline of 20 percent or higher.

The treadmill should come with plenty of programs. While not necessary to the functionality, they can make your workouts more fun by allowing you to alter the programs to create a different feel or change of pace. Your treadmill should have a minimum 10-year parts warranty, a minimum two-year labor warranty and a lifetime warranty on the deck.

Avoid purchasing a treadmill that folds up, as these treadmills tend to be less durable and generally experience more functional problems. This, of course, means you will need to commit some space for it in your home, office, or wherever the treadmill will live.

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Breakdowns by Brand

BodyGuard treadmills are great for commercial or home use. They are long-lasting and of great value. The strong base and solid suspension of the running surface offers a great feel and comfort. Bodyguard treadmills get my vote for home or commercial use. Click here to purchase a BodyGuard treadmill.

Frappier Acceleration Program and its high-tech treadmill that boasts a whopping speed setting of 28 mph and an incline of 40% is my top pick for professional athletes who want the edge in speed training. Though treadmills will help you develop great biomechanics, it is a must that you also train on regular running surfaces because this has the most carry-over to your athletic performance on the track and/or field.

Life Fitness treadmills are built to last by people who enjoy running. They have a patented deck surface that provides excellent stability and support for your joints. Life Fitness treadmills are great for club or home use. Most commercial gyms use Life Fitness treadmills. They have many different versions to fit your budget and health needs. Click here to purchase a Life Fitness treadmill.

NordicTrack has many different versions of treadmills, including a commercial machine that can reach a 15 percent incline with a 60-inch belt for that extra running room. They also have lower end models that can provide a good amount of use.

Precore has high-end, high quality treadmills with excellent suspension that reduces the stress to your joints and back; they also offer many great programs, including a quick-start program to get you moving right away. Precore treadmills are great for your gym or home. To purchase a Precore treadmill, click here.

Star Trac treadmills have been around for many years and are quite reliable. They provide many programs and a great running deck. Star Trac machines are widely used in commercial gyms around the world and have a reputation for being a higher quality treadmill.

Woodway offers a very high-tech treadmill with a state-of-the-art running surface; it is designed with rubber slats instead of a belt. In my opinion, this is the best running surface of all treadmills. The top speed setting is 10-12 mph and it has an incline of 10-15 percent. Woodway also carries a sports performance treadmill that can reach 20 mph and as much as a 20 percent incline. Woodway treadmills are like running on clouds — smooth, soft and with a great feel. Click here to purchase a Woodway treadmill.

There are many other great brands of treadmills, but once you decide to purchase a high-end treadmill, you can’t really go wrong. My best advice is to try them out, though you won’t really be able to notice any major difference when running on a good quality treadmill — with the exception of a few like Woodway treadmills. The rubber slats used and higher-end suspension systems used by Woodway and some of the other high-end brands clearly set them apart.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You can get great results with a treadmill running program, but you can get even better results and more fat loss through weight training. To find out how to start a successful weight training program, click here.

Scott White is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist located in Scottsdale, Ariz. For more information about nutrition and fitness, reach Scott at 480-628-1607, [email protected], or