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Is Running on A Treadmill High Impact? What Science Says

If you’re a runner, you know that running can be tough on your body. Muscle aches, joint pain, and foot issues are par for the course. Running is a high impact sport for the body. Running on a treadmill can help soften the blow, but is running on a treadmill high impact?

When it comes to running, there are a lot of different opinions on what type of surface is best. Some people swear by running outdoors on trails or in the park, while others prefer the convenience and consistency of running on a treadmill in their own homes. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference, but does science have a say in which one is higher impact?

We’ll look at whether or not treadmill running is high impact, the mechanics of running, the potential damage to the treadmill, and what can be done to help reduce the impact of running in general.

Is Running on A Treadmill High Impact?

feet impacting a treadmill when woman is running

Running a treadmill is considered high impact. It strains your ankle and knee joints with each foot strike, however it is less than road running due to the shock absorping nature of a treadmill deck. It’s helpful to supplement running with cross training to help strengthen muscles, joints, and tendons.

When running on a treadmill, each foot comes into contact with the ground between 80 and 100 times. This illustrates the importance of having the proper padding, either within the shoe itself or the treadmill belt and deck combination, to help distribute that force as slowly and evenly across the foot as possible.

The force of each landing is absorbed by the ankle, knee, and hip joints. Over time, this high-impact exercise can lead to joint problems such as arthritis. This is obviously the worst case scenario. It is critical to take care of your body when pushing it’s limits through longer distance running – this includes running form, proper running shoes, and proper techniques through warmup and cool down.

The Mechanics of Running and Impact

According to a study by The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Therapy, rear foot strikers apply significantly higher forces than mid and forefoot strikers.Running, either over ground or on a treadmill, is a high-impact activity because each time the foot strikes the ground the runner’s bodyweight as well as the momentun forces are all applied to the runners body.

The ground reaction forces, or GRF, applied to the runners are somewhat reduced by the calf muscle. This can lead to a different type of injury in mid and forefoot strikers either in the calf muscle itself or the achilles area. One thing to remember is that the forces applied are greater the quicker the load is applied.

Less Time Equals More Force

To illustrate this, think of shoe cushioning. As your foot comes down and makes contact with the ground, the cushion in the shoe slows your foot down prior to it coming to a complete stop and going back the other way.

Contrast this with running barefoot, for example. Running barefoot, you have no cushion. Your foot hits the ground and the minimal fat and tissue slow it abruptly and send it in the other direction. The tiny bit of difference in time makes a big difference in the force applied to the runner.

Does Running on A Treadmill Damage It?

Running on a treadmill does slowly damage and wear the treadmill out, but that is to be expected. A good treadmill should last 5-10 years with normal use, but higher than average miles or heavier than average runners will reduce that timeline. The build quality of the unit is also a factor.

Residential treadmills have 350 to 500 miles or so in the tank before problems may start to occur. Running at a pace of 6mph, that would be about three quarters of a million foot strikes on the low end. That’s a lot of running before needing to worry about damaging your treadmill.

Commercial treadmills are even more durable, although they are likely at a gym or other facility where it isn’t important how long they last since you aren’t paying for them. Ultimately, time spent running on a treadmill does damage it. And, according to the research, a heel striker may slightly speed up the decline of the treadmill.

Is Running on A Treadmill Harder on Your Body?

Running on a treadmill is not harder on your body. The cushioning effect of the treadmill itself, along with the lack of other elements like the sun and wind could be cause to argue the opposite: treadmill running is easier on the body. There are, of course, other considerations as well.

Running can be a difficult sport. Treadmill running is lower impact than running on concrete, but it is higher impact than some other forms of cardio like swimming, elliptical machines, or cycling. Even some sports could be considered lower impact than running on a treadmill such as golf, bowling, or even baseball.

Long stints of running do cause wear and tear on the body, but so do many other things like resistance training and high-impact sports like football and basketball. High impact doesn’t necessarily mean bad, it just means there needs to be a plan to manage the breakdown over time. The body breaks down and is rebuilt stronger and more efficient as long as it’s done in a responsible way.


At the end of the day, running on a treadmill is not inherently harder on your body than running outdoors, but it can be high impact depending on how you run. It’s important to take care of your body when running long distances by ensuring proper form, shoes, and warm-up.

If all proper precautions are followed, running either on a treadmill or outside can be a perfectly safe and effective hobby and way to exercise. Is running on a treadmill high impact? Yes, but it is lower impact than running outdoors in most cases.

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About the author

Jasper loves to write about fitness, running, and anything else that gets him moving outdoors. He's an avid hiker, backpacker, and climber who loves to stay fit so he can make sure he's healthy enough to enjoy his favorite hobbies. He also spends time writing about his true passions in life.