A Moment of Science

Why Do I Feel Strange When I Get Off A Treadmill?

After a session on a treadmill you might have noticed that when you get off the machine you feel like you are walking much faster than you really are.

treadmill

Photo: Mr. T in DC (Flickr)

Walk on the treadmill for about ten minutes, then get off and walk the course a few times with someone timing you.

After a session on a treadmill you might have noticed that when you get off the machine you feel like you are walking much faster than you really are. Try it, it’s a weird sensation! The feeling is so strong that we even tend to compensate for it for a short time.

You can test this by marking off a short course, about five yards, near a treadmill. Walk on the treadmill for about ten minutes, then get off and walk the course a few times with someone timing you. Try to walk at a speed that keeps things looking like they move by you at a steady pace. You might find that the laps tend to get faster for a short time.

Here’s what is probably happening…

As you’re walking on the treadmill your brain perceives your bodily motions as those that are normal for getting from one place to another. It’s a bit confused, though, since the surroundings are stationary. After about ten minutes, though, your brain thinks “Aw, forget it,” and stops associating your movements with locomotion.

Then when you get off the treadmill you continue to walk in much the same way, but now your surroundings appear to be moving by. Since the once stationary surroundings are now passing by, your brain gets the sense of faster movement, and you feel like you are accelerating. However, the sensation of acceleration doesn’t last too long, so to compensate for the feeling of slowing down you tend to walk a little faster until the effect wears off completely.

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