Are Treadmills Bad for Your Knees?
Table of Contents
- How Treadmills Impact Your Movement
- Is Running on a Treadmill Bad for Your Knees?
- Why Does My Knee Hurt on a Treadmill but Not Outside?
- How to Choose the Right Treadmill to Prevent Injury
- Tips to Minimize Injury While Running or Walking on a Treadmill
- Final Words
A question that’s been around as long as the exercise machines themselves, and one that everyone seems to have their own answer to.
After all, treadmills are bad for your knees… right?
Well, the answer might surprise you.
In this post, we’ll explain why starting out on a treadmill may actually be the best way to get your knees used to running and keep you running longer.
How Treadmills Impact Your Movement
Treadmills have a variety of features that make them preferable to running on many outdoor surfaces. Built-in shock absorption, extra cushioning, and other safety features all make running on a treadmill a comfortable experience, especially for newer runners that are just starting out on a fitness journey.
So, is running on a treadmill bad for you? We’re going to show you it’s not.
The entire frame of a treadmill is constructed to bear the full weight of the runner’s body, including the forceful pounding that happens with each stride.
Treadmills are built to give a slight bounce with each step, with cushioning built in to soften the blow of your footstrike.
This is an advantage that can’t be compared to hitting the hard pavement when running outside. The exception, of course, is when you run on grass instead of concrete pavement.
The quality of the treadmill you’re using obviously makes a difference when it comes to shock absorption. You can tell just by the feel of the machine you’re using whether there is a bounce to each step. If you feel a jarring impact with each footstrike, consider upgrading machines.
Consistent Speed and Incline
Running on a treadmill gives you full control over your speed and incline in a way that running outside cannot.
Just setting the speed on your treadmill and sticking to it can take so much guesswork out of your workout.
When running on a street or trail, you must constantly monitor and calculate your pace. With that responsibility removed, you’re free to focus on your form. Instead of having to watch out for cars or bicycles or speed up or slow down to maintain your desired pace, you can let the treadmill do that work for you while you focus on getting the miles in.
Better Grip and Safety
Always clip on the safety key to your treadmill! Most treadmill injuries happen because the runner wasn’t paying attention.
If you need to stop suddenly or stumble a bit, the safety key clipped to your waist will yank the key out and turn the treadmill off immediately. Being inside when such a thing happens is far preferable to tumbling down a hill.
Treadmills also have handrails that you can grab, should you need to steady yourself. You won’t find those in the great outdoors.
Is Running on a Treadmill Bad for Your Knees?
So, are treadmills bad for your knees? The short answer is… No!
Running is a high-impact activity, no matter where you run.
The entire force of your body comes slamming down on your feet, ankles, and knees with every stride you take. This will take a toll, regardless of whether you’re running on a treadmill or a soft outdoor trail.
But what does the research say?
There is no evidence that running on a treadmill is bad for your knees. Everything we’ve examined so far has shown that treadmill running can be preferable to road running if you’re worried about protecting yourself from future knee pains that could be caused by running.
In fact, some medical professionals advise that using a treadmill with knee pain can help improve your symptoms in some cases. 
Naturally, you will want to run on a high-quality treadmill, one with the proper padding and settings.
If running sounds like a challenge to you, try Walkfit, the best walking app with customized walking programs for weight loss and overall well-being. Enjoy guided walking workouts!
Why Does My Knee Hurt on a Treadmill but Not Outside?
If you’re experiencing minor knee pain after running on a treadmill that you don’t experience when you run outside, there may be some simple solutions.
Use an Incline
First, try giving yourself a little bit of incline during your runs. A treadmill set to 0% can technically feel like a very slight downhill tilt.
This puts strain on the knees and quadriceps, making them focus on stopping yourself from going forward instead of helping to pull yourself ahead.
Try setting the incline to as low as it will go, such as 1%, or 0.5% if your treadmill offers that level. 
Watch Out for RSI
You may also need to guard against developing a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), which comes from performing any activity in the exact same way for too long.
Treadmill runners have this risk, as the form you use while running on a treadmill can be so meticulously clean that you end up looking almost mechanical as the miles pass by.
If this is the case for you, try changing up the speed and the incline while running on a treadmill. You can also mix up indoor and outdoor running to make sure you’re giving your legs a full range of experience.
If you want to stay at a set pace, try doing some running drills mid-workout. For example, here are some additional exercises you can do during your run:
- High knee kicks
- Butt kicks
- Side leg lifts
- Toy soldiers
- Crab walk
Incorporate Strength Training Into Your Program
Above all, you need to incorporate strength training into your workout routine. Even if your primary goal is to be a better runner, cross-training is essential to make sure that goal happens.
If running isn’t your main fitness goal, consider doing resistance training workouts three-to-four days per week. You can choose between a full-body routine or a split-body routine.
For example, if you decide to focus on full-body workouts, you can alternate three different workouts each week. Select one exercise per muscle group, and do three sets of 10 reps for each exercise.
Alternatively, if you prefer a split-body routine, you can choose to either do an upper-lower split or a traditional push-pull-legs (PPL) split. Examples of PPL exercises include:
- Bench press
- Tricep extensions
- Military press
- Bent over row
- Bicep curls
- Lat pulldown
- Different types of squats
- Leg press
- Leg curl
- Adduction machine
If you are training to improve your race time, you can do strength training workouts two-to-three times per week. In this case, a full-body workout would be the best option.
Don’t Forget About Your Joints
As a runner, you need to protect your knees and ankles. After all, without them, you wouldn’t be able to run. Check out our ankle mobility exercises for bulletproof ankles.
How to Choose the Right Treadmill to Prevent Injury
When looking at treadmills, make sure you consider the following:
The motor will need to be strong enough to keep up with your demand.
Each treadmill model will have a weight recommendation or limit. If you are on the heavier side, make sure you choose a treadmill that will be appropriately sturdy enough to manage your size.
To ensure a comfortable run, get a treadmill that has at least a 20” belt. Smaller versions may be tempting to save space in your home but will ultimately be frustrating to run on.
Tips to Minimize Injury While Running or Walking on a Treadmill
Here are the best ways to minimize injury while you run or walk on a treadmill:
Focus on Your Form
Make an effort to feel each footstrike. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you landing on the front of your foot or more toward your heel?
- Do you feel your core muscles actively engaged, and are they helping to propel your hips and throw your legs forward?
- Are you standing up straight?
- Are your arms pumping in rhythm with the rest of your body?
All of these considerations are areas to inspect while running or walking on a treadmill, as you’ll have the ability to do so without the distractions that come from running on a street. There’s no traffic to worry about on a treadmill!
Don’t Zone Out
Another tip is to avoid zoning out. If you use a treadmill in a gym with a TV or set up a tablet to watch a movie while you run, you can easily lose track of your form. Try to shut all of that out and pay attention to your running.
Remember to Strength Train
Lastly, just a reminder that in order to avoid treadmill injuries, all runners should incorporate strength and cross-training into their regimens.
The most relatable method of cardiovascular cross-training for a runner is the elliptical machine. The low-impact exertion that comes from an elliptical is a great way to keep your legs moving.
At the same time, strength training by weightlifting or other bodyweight exercises are excellent methods to keep your legs strong, prevent injury, and avoid the soreness that comes if your only exercise is running.
Some runners out there are saying treadmills are bad for you. As we’ve seen, that couldn’t be further from the truth so long as you’re using a high-quality treadmill and following the tips we laid out above.
- Treadmills offer features like shock absorption and other safety features that make running on a treadmill actually better for your knees.
- Running is a high-impact activity no matter where you’re doing it.
- Knee pain can be lessened or avoided through some minor changes to the treadmill settings, your form, and your cross-training.
Keep these tips in mind, and we’re sure you’ll have a great time running on a treadmill. Happy running!