VSD Conceptual Investigation

Jason Grigely
VSD Conceptual Investigation

Socio-Technical System
The system or environment involving our problem space, may be described as a health center, gym, or home, however, it can be further extended to any area that contains a treadmill for the sole purpose of exercise. The existence of a treadmill within this space constitutes a problem by the very nature and behavior of a treadmill. The technology for treadmills has not vastly changed in quite some time, and perhaps it is because of this that we are starting to see a growing observation by large communities of runners. Simply put, running outdoors is “easier” than running indoors on a treadmill.

It is a common experience amongst most runners, that there is a great degree of variance between the acts of running outdoors versus running indoors on a treadmill. While outdoor running is said to be of greater physical difficulty, running indoors on a treadmill is commonly accepted as being more of a psychological battle and less physically demanding. However, with the easy adaptability of running on a treadmill, in terms of adjustable incline, additional impact cushioning (reducing stress on ankle and knee joints), as well as the ability to easily control your pace and speed, perhaps we should think about bringing the perceptive ease of running outdoors to the treadmill.

As it is currently designed, repetitive and continued use of the treadmill requires a certain degree of willpower, almost as if the user must at times force themselves to use a treadmill, if only for convenience’s sake. This is in part due to “Running ‘on the spot’” which “can lead to an earlier onset of boredom and mental fatigue” (Anderson). The stationary nature of the treadmill, with its unchanging view, and the simply feeling the user gets that he/she simply isn’t going anywhere. This adds an unnecessary level of stress to an activity that is meant not only to get/keep the user in shape, but also to function as a stress reliever. The increase of stress through this activity not only effects the users motivation, and attitude towards the use of the treadmill, but can also have extended effects to the people around them, as the stress may manifest in other ways.

Physiological Advantages
A study done by Jennifer R. Abramczak et al. suggests that the physical act of running outdoors is more strenuous than that of running on a treadmill. This is substantiated by the mechanics involved with running on a treadmill, such as the belt, which quite literally moves beneath the runner’s feet, requiring less action to propel ones’ self forward; in stark contrast to outdoor running, where the runner must push themselves, as well as lean forward a bit, which tends to put a greater strain on the runner’s back. Theoretically, the difference in strain on your body experienced on a treadmill versus running outdoors, should allow the user to run much greater distances on a treadmill, however Abramczak et al. suggests that this may not necessarily be so. Even though outdoors, runners in the study reached a higher heart rate, their Rate of Perceived Exhaustion (RPE), was almost always lower when running outdoors. What this means, is that while running outdoors was shown to be more physically demanding, as runners obtained a higher heart rate, they often felt less fatigue, or exhibited fewer signs of fatigue than treadmill runners.

An advantage of running outdoors is airflow. The drag force you experience running outdoors, while it does require more energy from the runner at higher speeds, the “absence of wind resistance on a treadmill leads to a significantly lower oxygen consumption compared to running outside” (Anderson). As you continue to exercise, your body requires more and more oxygen in your blood to prevent the buildup of lactic acid, which is why after exercising for extended periods, your muscles begin to ache. Therefore, if we were able to bring the additional airflow (as well as perhaps even the drag force) of outdoor running to the treadmill, it would ultimately benefit the user.

What approach can we take to solve this problem?
In order to solve the issues faced by many involving the treadmill, we must augment and elevate the design of the treadmill. In doing so, we can combine the positive elements of both atmospheres, while sacrificing little, if anything from the user’s workout. The first step to take in the elevation of the treadmill design would involve a visual display, which encompasses the surroundings of the runner, and is designed to mimic outdoor terrain, which can be chosen by the user. These visuals would provide the user with a virtual environment in which they would be immersed. Infrared sensors could be used to adjust the display height, as the size of potential users of a treadmill is likely to vary greatly. The environment would reflect perspective changes to the user based on elements such as running speed/pace, as well as the slope/incline of the treadmill. Mimicking an outdoor environment would serve as a stress reducer, as well as give the user something to focus on while running, while still concentrating on the act of running, rather than being distracted by music, television, or simply fixing their attention to a spot in the room.

In addition to the virtual display, we could implement a supplementary ventilation system, which would provide airflow to the user, which mimics that of an outdoor environment. Additionally it would be possible for the user to mimic wind conditions (for example, if you’re running north, and there is a 5mph eastern wind gust, the user would feel the effects of the crosswind), as well as the drag force encountered in running outdoors. Not only would these changes in air flow assist in the recreation of the outdoor running experience, but it would also help to increase oxygen intake for the user. This, in theory, would allow for the user to maintain a reasonably higher heart rate for longer periods, as their body would be able to more aptly combat the buildup of lactic acid.

Preliminary Conclusions
By solving the psychological issues involved with running on a treadmill, we open the door to greatly expand the capacity for athletic training indoors. While most personal trainers and elite athletes agree that for the best results, when training for an outdoor event (such as a 5k race, marathon, etc.), it is best to train outdoors. However, they also acknowledge that this is not always an availible option for everyone. In addition, it may be possible, with these proposed changes, to increase the effectiveness of treadmill training from both a physiological, as well as a psychological perspective, thereby surpassing outdoor training in terms of effectiveness.


THE PHYSIOLOGICIAL DIFFERENCES OF OUTDOOR TRAIL RUNNING VERSUS INDOOR TREADMILL RUNNING. Jennifer R. Abramczak, LeAnn M. Hayes, Christopher A. Johnson. University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire, Eau Claire, WI.
10/19/2008. Link

THE DEBATE. George Anderson, Steve Barrett. FitPro Network.
10/19/2008 . Link

[Repost via Theory and Research in HCI ]

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