Tips for Mastering the Treadmill

Get the most from your treadmill time Get the most from your treadmill time

A treadmill can be a great tool for refining your running form and moving toward your fitness goals.

Get the Most from Your Treadmill

The treadmill. As a runner thoughts immediately come to mind when it is mentioned. Usually you either embrace it or loathe it.

I tend to be in the loathe category and affectionately refer to it as the “dreadmill”. Perhaps that comes from the fact that I never started out running on a treadmill for exercise. It became something I did in the absence of a indoor running track at a health club when I couldn’t get outside to run.

Don’t think of the treadmill as a necessary evil, attempt to compare it to running outdoors or something you wish you didn’t have to use from time to time, but instead a specialized piece of equipment to improve your running.

Many people start off running on one to lose weight and transition to running outside. But there is also a sizable number of seasoned runners that use them only in a pinch to not let their running routine get off track. In both cases, there are some best practices to get the most out of your treadmill time.

Simulate Being Outdoors

A lot of the reason you are on a treadmill probably is because being outside isn’t practical. But you should aim to replicate as much as you can about being outside when inside. Being indoors means you lose the natural wind resistance of forward motion while running. To compensate for this, raise the incline of the treadmill to 1% or 2%. Having a gentle incline better simulates being outdoors.

Don’t Run Up A Steep Hill Indefinitely

Like many things in running, a runner often assumes more is always a good thing. More time spent running means more miles. More miles means better fitness. As we know, this is to a point before you risk injury.

In the case of a treadmill you may be thinking that since I just mentioned setting your incline to 1% or 2% that setting it to a higher grade would result in even greater results. Again, the answer is to a point.

Higher inclines can be useful to simulate specific outdoor scenarios such as hills, but you should never run a workout at an incline of more than 2% for the entire duration of your run. Straight hill running is not a good idea indoors or out. When adding incline in excess of 2%, you should only do so for a short duration of not more than 5 minutes and never surpass a 7% incline for any length of time.

Inclines in excess of 2% for extended periods of time put you at risk for Achilles tendon or calf injuries and inclines of greater than 7% increase these risks in addition to putting undue strain on your back, hips and ankles.

Warm Up Properly

In can be tempting to just get on the treadmill and go, especially since many runners will run on a treadmill for a set period of time such as 30 or 45 minutes rather than a specific number of miles. Warming up is then seen as eating into this time. Run at an easy pace for 5 minutes just as you likely would outdoors.

Don’t Hold Onto The Rails

The rails and console are there to assist you in getting on and off the treadmill and as a source of stability to regain your balance while you are running should you lose your footing since falling would result in the moving belt throwing you backwards. Swing your arms just as you would outdoors. The treadmill is not a StairMaster!

Holding onto the railing has several drawbacks.

The first is it completely negates the 1% or 2% incline you set to simulate running outdoors. When you hold onto the rails, you tend to lean back and make your body perpendicular to the treadmill.

The second is you are very likely to heel strike which is not only poor running form, but increases your injury risk.

Holding on also makes running easier which gives you a false sense of your fitness ability. What you are capable of indoors will not be even close to what you can do outdoors. Finding this out after a period of time running indoors will not serve you well.

If you find yourself needing to hold on, reduce the speed, incline or both. You’ll get a better workout at less intensity by not holding the rails than if you do.

Don’t Look At Your Feet or The Console

It can be very tempting to look at your feet to make sure you are positioned correctly and also to stare at the console to watch your progress and see how much you have left. Doing either of these for too long will result in your running form suffering. You will likely start to hunch over which can lead to stiffness or pain. Just as when running outdoors, look straight ahead when running on a treadmill.

If you are watching a TV on the treadmill, make sure it is positioned straight ahead and at eye level.

To resist the temptation to gaze down at the console, I recommend putting a towel over it and checking it only when you need to use the towel. This can also help runners that feel demoralized by the constant status of how much further you have yet to go.

Focus on Your Stride

Just as outside, focus on your turnover and striking the treadmill with your mid-foot. Same rules apply indoors as out, 180 steps per minute (90 per foot).

Since you have less distractions while running indoors on a treadmill, use the time to really focus specifically on hitting this goal. This is a good way to not only improve your turnover for outdoor running but also to combat any boredom.

Visualize A Running Route

Inside Runner Academy Membership I talk about visualizing success. On a treadmill take a variation of this approach. Rather than thinking about a specific race outcome, think about your favorite outdoor running training route and imagine you are on it, passing certain landmarks, other runners and adjust the incline based on any hills along your route. You just might find a lot of time quickly has passed!

Cool Down Properly

When running outdoors you never want to just abruptly stop and sit down. You walk for a bit and cool down. The same applies on the treadmill.

Many runners will simply hop off when time is up just because they are on a piece of fitness equipment, or again because they think of their time spent on a treadmill as a fixed amount of time. Spend 5 minutes in a slow jog or even a walk before you get off.

Have you ever stepped off a treadmill and felt dizzy or had sensations that you were still moving? You can avoid it if you cool down properly and adjust back to movement off the belt.

This article originally appeared on Runner Academy. Republished with permission.

Matt Johnson

Matt is a USATF and RRCA certified running coach, founder and head coach at Runner Academy and host of Runner Academy Podcast. As a runner for more than 15 years he focuses on helping others achieve their own running goals.

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