Treadmills are easier on running shoes than most outside running surfaces. Concrete, pavement, and gravel accelerate the wear on the outsole of the shoe. One myth is the opposite – that treadmills wear out shoes faster. That is not accurate. Running shoes do last longer on a treadmill than outside.
Shoes last longer on a treadmill for a few reasons. First, the treadmill belt and the sole of the shoe grip each other better causing less sliding friction. Secondly, the treadmill surface is softer than outside. Thirdly, the shoes aren’t exposed to the elements like sunlight.
In this article we expand more on each of these points as well as provide some helpful tips on the durability of running shoes and alternate options to for footwear when running on a treadmill.
- Do Running Shoes Wear out Faster on A Treadmill?
- The Treadmill Belt Is a Softer Surface than The Concrete or Pavement Outside
- The Shoe Isn’t Exposed To The Elements
- How Many Miles Do Running Shoes Last on A Treadmill?
- Is It Better to Wear Shoes on A Treadmill?
- What Should I Look for In Treadmill Running Shoes?
Do Running Shoes Wear out Faster on A Treadmill?
Essentially, the reason comes down to abrasion. As you create friction from running, with each step your outsoles wear out slightly. On the hard surfaces found when running outdoors, this abrasion is accelerated.
“A treadmill is generally gentler on shoes…the surface is less abrasive, so the outsole lasts longer, and the added cushioning reduces the compaction rate of the shoe’s cushioning.”-Martyn R. Shorten, Ph. D
Wear Rates for Running Shoes on Treadmills vs Concrete
Wear rates for running shoes vary by the shoe, outsole material, individual runner’s gait, running surface, and many other factors. According to a study by IEEE, where they measured the wear on the outsole of running shoes for 62 male participants, the wear rate changes as the shoes wear down.
It’s important to point out that these were not road running shoes on a treadmill, but in outside conditions. As we have previously discussed, wear rates on a treadmill would be expected to be less.
The Treadmill Belt Is a Softer Surface than The Concrete or Pavement Outside
One of the reasons running shoes fail is from the crushing forces that are applied as the foot comes down against the surface. As the foot strikes the surface, energy dissipates through the shoe into the ground. With a treadmill, the deck of the treadmill takes some of that energy. On concrete, that energy is all absorbed by the shoe itself
This energy exchange can break down the midsole of the shoe causing it to lose cushioning. It can also start to feel spongy and not provide the support needed from a good midsole. Losing support and spring can cause a whole host of issues with your feet, ankles, knees and running times. Once the midsole has been broken down, it’s time to look for a new pair of shoes.
The Shoe Isn’t Exposed To The Elements
Sunlight can break down the running shoe and cause damage to the structural integrity of the shoe itself. Running shoes are made largely of polyester and mesh. While not a huge factor, sunlight can affect the structural integrity of polyester after prolonged exposure.
This won’t happen in one run, or even one week, but during the course of several runs sunlight can slowly cause the upper and lace area of the shoe to deform.
Other elements, such as rain, dirt, wind, and general muck aren’t as much of a concern. Since polyester is a petroleum-based product it is surprisingly resistant to being wet. The inner lining of running shoes are made mostly of cotton. Cotton absorbs water, but will dry out without any major concerns.
How Many Miles Do Running Shoes Last on A Treadmill?
Running shoes should last around 400-500 miles before they need to be replaced. This number will depend on the shoe, your weight, how often you run, and other factors.
A study done in 1996 by the American Council on Exercise found that “shoes began to significantly lose their shock-absorbing ability at approximately 300 to 350 miles of use.”
This data correlates, at least loosely, to the study above referencing wear rates for shoe outsoles. Somewhere between 350 and 500 miles, it’s good practice to look at your shoes and make sure everything is still in good shape.
How Often Should I Replace My Treadmill Running Shoes?
Understanding most shoes will need to be replaced anywhere between 350 miles and 500 miles when running outdoors, we can make some assumptions to help answer the question. Treadmills are less damaging than concrete but by how much?
Dry concrete on rubber has a friction coefficient of .6, while rubber on the rubber is 1.15. While it would seem this indicates that running shoes would wear out slower on concrete, the opposite is true. Since the friction coefficient is lower, there is more sliding of the shoe on concrete which ultimately leads to more wear on the otusole.
Now, I get that treadmill belts aren’t necessarily rubber, nor are the soles of shoes, but the general point stands. If you want your running shoes to last as long as possible, run on a treadmill.
Is It Better to Wear Shoes on A Treadmill?
The other option is to ditch the shoes altogether. Many people find success by running barefoot, or in socks, on a treadmill. There are many benefits of running or walking barefoot on a treadmill, which I have covered in another article.
All of that to say, if you find your shoes running out too quickly – take them off! You may like the result. Shoeless treadmill running is good for balance and coordination and can help strengthen the smaller muscles in your feet and ankles better.
Many people swear by it. Plus, there are no broken bottles or potholes on your treadmill belt!
What Should I Look for In Treadmill Running Shoes?
When looking for the best treadmill running shoes, it’s important to focus on a few things. Specifically talking about wear, look for a hard outsole. Additionally, since treadmill belts generally have some sort of padding built-in, you may not need as much cushioning in the midsole of the shoe.
This can open the door up to some very light, speed shoes that could help increase your times on a treadmill (although – people tend to run slower on a treadmill so don’t get too excited!)
Lastly, make sure the shoes have good breathability. Running on a treadmill can get pretty hot, especially if you’re running in a stuffy gym. If your shoes don’t breathe, your feet are going to sweat which can cause blisters and other problems.
Keep an eye out for mesh uppers or other features that help the shoe breathe better. No need to worry about moisture protection or anything pokey indoors. Those are a few benefits of running on a treadmill.
Treadmills aren’t perfect, however, and there are some disadvantages to running on a treadill. I won’t get into them here, since I’ve written on it before. My advice is to take everything with a grain of salt and make your own decision on what’s best for your running program.
Whether to wear shoes or not is up to you. Some people prefer the barefoot feel, some don’t. One thing that you can be sure of is that running shoe technology has come a long way in recent years and there are lots of options out there for everyone – no matter what type of runner you are.