The body is designed to want to use the first technique; pushing itself across the ground using muscular force. When the body is able to use itself like this, it means it is stacked correctly and the spine is stable, the pelvis and hips are being loaded correctly and the knees and ankles are not loaded with more than they can handle.
The opposite to all of this is true if you are leaner and therefore a ‘faller’.In order to use muscular force to power the body across the ground, the ground must first be fixed; it must not be moving. Walking on a treadmill means that the ground is certainly not fixed, but it is already moving in the direction you want your leg to go in.
So instead of pushing your body forward you are now just bringing your leg up in front of you to keep up with the belt.
You have switched the entire mechanic of walking to one of push and power from the posterior chain, to one of pulling by the hip flexors. This action will look remarkably similar to someone walking along the ground but the muscular action is completely different.
Treadmill walking is a cycle of repetitive hip flexion and increased concussion to the foot, knee and hip. Unfortunately, walking on a treadmill does not strengthen the areas that want to be strengthened and can add up to pain and injury to the lower half of the body.
If you are heading to the gym to get your walking done on a treadmill, (great job by the way!) take a moment and see if you can get that time in during the day by walking across land.
If you took 5 mins out of every hour you were at work to have a walk, you could get 40 mins of functional, strength building walking in, every day.