Believe it or not, but treadmills have been around for more than 100 years, and they’ve remained one of the most effective fitness machines to date. In fact, there are few gyms in existence that don’t have treadmills on their menu of equipment and many people own them for use in their private residence.
Treadmills can be incredibly efficient for exercise, especially when it comes to building strength and burning fat, and can be a useful machine for everyone, from beginners to professional athletes. Since they’re low-impact, treadmills are great for people with joint problems, Reda Elmardi, R.D., certified nutritionist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Trainer, and founder of The Gym Goat, points out. “Because they don’t involve much impact, they’re less likely to cause damage to joints—and they can also be used to prevent injuries.”
With a treadmill, you can totally customize your workout—choosing how fast or slow you go, what your level of incline will be and how often you spend working out on them. Many newer treadmills also offer innovative features, such as measuring your heart rate, distance traveled, output and workout consistency.
They’re also great for colder seasons, when you might be less tempted to take your workout outdoors. “All too often when the weather is beautiful, we have no problem starting a walk or run program, yet once the cold weather hits, it’s harder to get outside and get walking or running,” says Alicia Jones, National Coach of Canada (NCCP), Advanced Sport Nutrition, Certified Group Fitness Instructor, Personal Training Specialist. “A treadmill gives you the option to create consistency in your workout—if it doesn’t matter what the weather is like outside, you’ll stick to the plan.”
There are, of course, drawbacks to using a treadmill and one of those is that they can get boring after a while, especially if you’re only using it to walk or run. “Compared to walking outside, you don’t get a change of scenery and it can seem boring to just walk in place,” says Bill Daniels, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., founder of Beyond Fitness. “On top of that, if you’re only using it for walking or running, then you don’t have much variety and that in itself will be boring overtime.”
The reality, however, is that the treadmill can be a universal machine, one that can do far more than walking and running only. Here, fitness pros share their best tips for how to mix up your treadmill routine and make it anything but boring.
Challenge yourself with different time intervals
If you’re running at a constant pace, your body becomes used to that pace and it no longer reacts as strongly to your workout. For this reason, Daniels recommends varying your speeds to ensure you are burning enough calories to achieve weight loss goals. “If you are trying to lose weight, then you should aim for about 10 percent faster than your normal pace,” he adds.
Switch it up with intensity intervals
Elmardi recommends trying to walk or run on a zero incline for a period of time and then increase your incline while maintaining the same speed. For example, if you’re running at 5 mph on an incline of 0 percent, he recommends maintaining the 5 mph pace, but increasing your incline to 5 percent. “Start off with a low incline (about 5 percent) and work your way up to 15 percent. “This will allow you to build muscle mass without having to spend hours on the treadmill,” he says.
Work the treadmill into your circuit
Daniels recommends setting up a circuit training workout with several exercises. “For example, you may do bodyweight squats, push-ups, and a plank followed by 60 seconds of running on the treadmill,” he says. “By doing this, you really push the intensity of your workout up.”
Use it like a sled
One thing Daniels really enjoys doing with some of his clients is to turn the treadmill off and have them push the belt with their feet. “When you put your hands on the front bars and force the treadmill belt to move with your feet, it is the equivalent of pushing a weighted sled,” he says. “You can use this as your workout and it will feel like resisting running and also work this exercise into your workout to elevate your heart rate.”
Jones used to run exclusively on treadmills. In fact, she trained for a marathon and half marathon using a treadmill alone! What made it fun and interesting was the incredible playlists she created to fuel her runs. “Music makes a huge difference—you can escape into a world of imagination using your favorite songs,” she says. She recommends creating a playlist of your favorite workout songs that you only listen to when you hop on the treadmill.