The Best Barefoot Treadmill Performance
I recently released the results of a three-month project to reveal the best treadmill for barefoot running. I shared these findings in Barefoot Running Treadmill Review. I determined three specific factors important to keep in mind when considering a treadmill for barefoot use:
1) the increase in belt temperature due to friction,
2) the belt texture, and
3) the suspension of the deck.
In that in-depth comparison review, I determined that the WOODWAY Curve and Desmo were the best treadmills tested for barefoot use. Now I’d like to expand on the details about these two treadmills to give you a better idea about why they are so different from conventional treadmills that are built with a rotating belt on a hard deck.
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, and arguably the best, to maintain natural running form. This stiff suspension allowed for the best running form that I can achieve. Although they did not have the smoothest texture compared to all the other traditional belts, their hard suspension and lack of heat increase definitely make them the most barefoot appropriate treadmills that I tested. The website describes the suspension as ‘a type A shore hardness of 38-43’ and ‘to be the ideal “softness” to eliminate the harmful shock to joints and connective tissues, while not changing proper biomechanics.’
The WOODWAY Curve is a non-motorized treadmill with a curved running surface. It is a commercial model priced at $6000. The 17” X 67” or 43 X 170 cm running surface is a WOODWAY-patented slat belt made of 60 individual slats of trapezoid-shaped vulcanized rubber-coated aluminum that glide over a 114 precision, two ball-bearing transportation system rails on either side of the belt. It can handle up to 350 lb or 158 kg in weight.
Due to its patented ball bearing design, there is very little friction and no belt slippage compared to conventional treadmills. The running surface temperature did not increase after a slow 10-minute run. After 10 minutes of sprint intervals there was still no increase. I was impressed.
The slat surface is texturized with excellent traction for bare feet. Although the texture looks deep, it is made of a relatively soft rubber.
The suspension is hard despite the lack of a deck under the running surface. This promotes the use of the body’s own elastic capacity instead of depending on a cushioned surface, which in turn, promotes good natural running form.
Running on the Curve is a completely different experience than running on a flat-decked treadmill 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 website says that the ‘treadmill burns up to 30% more calories than conventional motorized treadmills because the user is actually powering the running surface, thus engaging more muscle groups and achieving a superior workout’ and I whole-heartedly believe it after experiencing it. The perceived effort of running on the Curve feels greater than that of even running outside.
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.
I was initially concerned with the curved design that the space between the slats might change causing pinching of my feet but this is not the case. The Curve is designed with equidistant slat space the length of the running surface. I could feel the slat space with my feet but it was no different than running over a crack on a concrete sidewalk. There was slightly more vibration in the deck than in the WOODWAY Desmo but, although noticeable, was negligible and did not affect my comfort.
The WOODWAY Desmo is a motorized, flat-deck treadmill built with the WOODWAY-patented slat belt technology instead of a traditional rotating belt on a hard deck. The Desmo is a commercial model priced at $10,000. The 22” X 68” or 56 X 173 cm running surface is the same slat system as the Curve except the running surface is flat as opposed to the non-motorized curve shape.
The belt temperature did not heat up after 10 minutes of running. The belt ran very smoothly along its ball bearing rails. The texture of the slats provides a lot of traction but is not rough on the soles of the feet. It was similar to running barefoot on concrete. The suspension is hard. The only vertical movement was in the individual slats upon landing but this was very minute.
Of the flat-decked treadmills tested for the comparison review, the Desmo is my preferred model for barefoot running. Knowing that my feet will never get too hot and that I can continue to work on my barefoot running form means that I can truly supplement my outdoor running with the Desmo.
Because the Desmo is motorized, the speed of the belt is subject to the changing of the motor speed, which is not as responsive as the non-motorized Curve. The Desmo does feature a “Dynamic Mode”, attained by pressing both the increase and decrease speed buttons for 10 seconds. Dynamic Mode allows the treadmill to run non-motorized, however, because it is a flat deck, you must hang on to the handles to reach momentum if the treadmill has no incline. At a sufficient incline, the belt will spin under the power of the user without holding on, but it will depend on the weight of the runner.
The Curve vs the Desmo
Of the two WOODWAY treadmills, I would choose the Curve as my favourite. I enjoyed the responsiveness and the mindful running form required to run on it. The extra effort in muscle engagement and cardio workout combined with the pace feedback allow me to use it as a true replacement for outdoor running. I did not compare running on the Curve to running on a motorized treadmill at an incline, however, but the latter would be harder than running level without an incline.
I had the pleasure of trying out the Curve and the Desmo at Stenia Health & High Performance in Calgary, Alberta, and talking with head coach and owner Kelsey Andries about her WOODWAY treadmills. I asked Kelsey why she chose the WOODWAYs over other conventional commercial treadmill models. She told me it was because of the low maintenance of the machines, the lack of belt slippage common in conventional treadmill designs, their energy efficiency, and that she liked the feel of the suspended slat system for running. She likes that the Curve forces good running form, is a high performance tool with no top speed, and its small square-footage requirement. When asked what she likes about the Desmo, she replied that she liked the running surface, the big deck, that it’s easy to run on, and particularly liked the Dynamic Mode. I also asked Kelsey which model she would recommend to a client to purchase and she said it would depend on their demands: they are both great treadmills but for a high-performance machine, she would recommend the Curve because of its forced good running form, responsive pace adjustment, and no top speed.
The WOODWAY Curve and Desmo are the best performing treadmills for barefoot use tested over our three-month investigation. Twenty popular residential and commercial models were tested during this time. The revolutionary slat system is a pleasure to run on both in terms of the ideal suspension and the lack of heat build-up in the running surface. Both models are excellent, high-quality machines and choosing between the two would depend on a number of factors: If you’re looking for a flat-decked, motorized treadmill that is easy to run on with the best barefoot performance, the Desmo is the best choice. If you’re looking for a high performance treadmill, with no top speed, no waiting for motor acceleration/deceleration, forced natural running form with a forefoot landing, and a mindful and challenging running workout, then the Curve is the model for you.
To learn more about WOODWAY and their treadmill models, check out their website at http://woodway.com.
Special thanks to Kelsey Andries at Stenia Health & High Performance for the use of the WOODWAY treadmills and all her shared knowledge and expertise. Thanks to Nelson Chan at National Fitness Products of Canada for his helpful information and stock photos of the WOODWAY treadmills.
Originally posted on LivingBarefoot.info