Don’t get burned:What to consider when picking the best treadmill for barefoot runningBy Tina DuBois of Living Barefoot Introduction Treadmills are ubiquitous in the home and gym. It’s only logical to want to take your enthusiasm for barefoot running indoors and onto the nearest treadmill. In fact, many people will want to try barefoot running on a treadmill before they ever hit the pavement. Doing so is certainly possible but, as I’ve discovered, even on a treadmill there are some careful considerations that should be given when used for barefoot running. Although I prefer to run outside on trails (and in minimalist footwear), there are times when I would rather run indoors: when the weather is bad or when the trails are too dangerous for my current skill. Sometimes I just want to do a short run and don’t feel like getting all dressed up for appropriate weather conditions. During these times, I would like to run indoors but barefoot. That’s what led me to find the best barefoot appropriate treadmill. I went to fitness facilities and supply stores as well as department stores to find the treadmills that the average consumer would be exposed to and put them through their barefoot paces. I ran on a few commercial, one light-commercial, and many residential models. I tried running barefoot on a total of 20 treadmills and determined some important considerations when trying barefoot treadmill running. Barefoot running calls for special consideration of features that might otherwise be far less important. There are three things that must be considered when purchasing a treadmill for barefoot running: heat, texture, and suspension. The belts installed on treadmills vary considerably in design and texture. These design differences make a big difference for a barefoot runner. Belt texture can be so rough that barefoot running becomes very uncomfortable or even impossible, and the heat generated by some treadmill designs makes running barefoot equally as difficult. People who spend considerable time barefoot may find that the belt texture is not as important a consideration as it is to me as their foot soles and pads are tougher than mine. Barefoot running is, at least in part, aimed at improving form and learning how to run naturally. The deck suspension system makes a considerable difference in feedback generated when running and thus is another crucial detail that must be taken into consideration when selecting a treadmill for barefoot running. For the full-length article with reviews for each of the 20 treadmills that I tried, as well as an extensive rating system and summary table, go to LivingBarefoot.info. Best Barefoot Performance The best treadmills for barefoot performance were undeniably the WOODWAY treadmills. Running on the WOODWAY treadmills is unlike running on any of the traditionally decked treadmills. The slat belt technology on a ball-bearing transportation system of the Curve and Desmo is a far more enjoyable running experience than running on a conveyor belt rotating on a hard deck creating increasing amounts of heat through friction. Both WOODWAY treadmills had absolutely no running surface temperature increase, even after sprinting. The suspension of the WOODWAY treadmills is hard, which is exactly what I prefer. This stiff suspension allowed for the best running form that I can achieve. Although they did not have the smoothest texture to run on, their hard suspension and lack of heat increase definitely make them the most barefoot appropriate treadmills that I tested. Of the two WOODWAY treadmills, I would choose the Curve as my favourite. Running on the Curve is different than running on the flat-decked treadmills because of the non-motorized curve design. In less than 10 minutes of running, I could feel my glutes and calves burning and my heart racing from the extra exertion. The Curve design promotes a barefoot-style, natural running form simply with the design of the surface. You have to be very conscious of your running form and pace at every step. The Curve responded very quickly to my pace and could reach sprinting or stopping speeds in as little as three steps. This treadmill is a high performance machine with no maximum speed. Being able to control my own pace instead of depending on the acceleration/deceleration of a motor felt more natural than running on the motorized treadmills. I also felt safer and more in-control with the responsive belt speed. It never outpaced me and it didn’t go too slow. The forced use of good running form as well as the natural and responsive surface made the experience much like running outside—and isn’t that the point of it all? Best Barefoot Value Although the WOODWAY treadmills are my favourite for barefoot performance, their expensive commercial prices exclude them from having the best value. The treadmill with the best value that I tried is the Sole F63 model. It was the best of the conventional rotating belt on a deck treadmill and is priced under $2000. It felt to have a sturdy, high-quality construction, the increase in temperature was below average, the belt texture was comfortable, and the suspension was relatively hard. I found that among the conventional treadmills, it was difficult to find one that excelled at all three main criteria points; several of the treadmills were better than the Sole in one aspect but they would not be adequate overall. From the models that I chose to run on, none of the conventional treadmills were great to run on barefoot but there may be a model on the market that would succeed with a low surface temperature increase, a smooth belt texture, and a hard suspension, I just didn’t find it. Recommendations After running barefoot on 20 treadmills, I made several observations and am confident in making a few recommendations if you are in the market to purchase a treadmill specifically for barefoot running. Not all of these recommendations will apply if you desire a treadmill to run on in conventional or minimalist shoes, however. You will feel very little heat from the running surface and the belt texture smoothness will be insignificant while your soles are protected by any kind of shoe. There really is no way of knowing what the surface temperature will increase to while running on a treadmill unless you try it yourself. I would sometimes guess what the temperature increase would be before trying a treadmill based on the thickness of the belt. While this worked comparing a regular thickness belt to a considerably thicker orthopaedic belts, this did not work comparing regular belts to each other. There were four general types of belts that I found: A patterned belt with diagonal lines,< /li>A patterned belt with horizontal/vertical lines,A thick orthopaedic belt with a deep grip depth and generally a horizontal/vertical pattern, andA non-patterned belt that I compare to a mild sand-paper texture. Of these four belt types, the non-patterned sand-paper-like belt was by far the most comfortable to run on. The patterned belts would range in low to medium comfort to run on barefoot depending on the grip depth of the pattern; the shallower the grip depth the better. The orthopaedic belts were not comfortable at all to run on barefoot because the grip depth was far too deep for my forefoot pads to handle. Different models within a brand can have different belts. If you find a brand that you like, try to find a model with a belt texture that is the most comfortable to run on. There were two general types of suspensions: An independent deck suspension (like those of the commercial brands) orA frame suspension. Of these two types, the independent deck suspensions were generally more bouncy than the frame suspensions. I also found that those treadmills with an adjustable suspension had the hardest suspensions of all the treadmills, when set to its stiffest setting. If a hard suspension is the most important feature for you, I would recommend trying to find a treadmill with an adjustable suspension and keep it on its hardest suspension setting. Also with regards to suspension, I found that within a brand, models with shorter decks had less bounce. The feature that is most important will be a personal preference, so choose a treadmill that best fits your most important factor.