We have all had those moments, on stormy or chilly days, when we hopped on a gym treadmill and thought, "Ugh, I just wish I could be running outside." And now, thanks to a new treadmill prototype, we are one step closer to achieving that dream.
This new exercise machine, developed by Ohio State University associate professor of kinesiology Steven Devor and Northern Kentucky University assistant professor of kinesiology Cory Scheadler, uses sonar technology to automatically adjust the speed of the treadmill belt to the pace of the runner rather than sticking to a constant, predetermined speed.
The treadmill addresses the main difference between running in the great outdoors and along that revolving belt: outside, we pick our own pace and adjust naturally, while inside, we are forced to continue moving at the same speed like a hamster on a wheel. Creating the sensation that we can move in whichever way we like without having to manipulate a machine with a multitude of buttons could the be the key to making treadmill workouts -- that's right, we'll say it -- downright enjoyable.
The sonar technology component allows the treadmill to register where exactly the runner is positioned on the belt. If they pick up their pace and move closer to the front of the belt, the treadmill speed increases automatically. And the opposite also holds true, where if the runner slows down and drifts toward the back of the belt, the treadmill will slow down for them.
"If you're running outside and you want to speed up or slow down, there is no button to push. It is the same with this new automated treadmill," Devor said in a statement. "It is seamless and feels completely natural. You just go."
It took quite a bit of trial and error to make those speed changes feel so seamless, but the finished product now adjusts smoothly as well as reacts quickly. According to Devor, an elite runner himself, he can suddenly break into a sprint without ever hitting the front of the treadmill or losing control. (Shout out to interval training!)
"So many people call it the 'dreadmill," said Devor. "It is boring and monotonous. An automated treadmill makes the experience much more natural and you can just run without thinking of what pace you want to set."
Even more good news: the prototype is complete and almost ready for commercialization. The treadmill also has a pending patent to not only protect the unique idea, but also better appeal to fitness equipment companies who must invest in the product to bring them to our local gyms.
While you wait for your treadmill wishes to be fulfilled, know that there are ways to make the "dreadmill" slightly less dreadful. And at the end of the day, logging miles indoors when outside isn't an option is always better than doing nothing at all.
The research was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.