Don't fear to tread: how to get the most out of the treadmill

Some people rarely run a step outside the confines of the gym, while others loathe the treadmill…but how ever you feel about the running machine, these ten tips will help you get more out of using it, making your workouts not only more effective, but also more fun. Honest!

Go short and sharp

To escape the boredom factor, use the treadmill only for shorter, sharper runs. It is one of the best places to do threshold or tempo sessions, as the whole point of these is to maintain a steady, hard effort for the duration of the run. Outside, it's quite easy to let your pace drop off without really noticing - but there's no chance of that happening on the treadmill (or you'll be flying off the back!)

Make use of the incline button

Another way the treadmill comes into its own is for use in hill training. Especially if you live somewhere flat, like me. But for anyone, it offers the perfect place to do hill repeats (where you run up a given incline a set number of times), or to tackle a hilly run of varying inclines. Hills are a great way of building leg strength and boosting endurance. A study in the journal Science found that increasing the incline from 6 to 12 doubled power output.

Do a time trial

Your ability to precisely control the environment (terrain, weather, incline and so on) makes the treadmill a fantastic location for monthly time trials. Warm up first, then select your time (12 minutes is a good test - and you'll be able to use your time to work out a VO2 max estimate on the internet - look for links to the Cooper Test) and go for it. Alternatively, go for a set distance, such as 5km. Keep a record of your results to monitor progress.

Use the feedback

One area in which treadmills beat outdoor running is in giving constant feedback. At any given moment, you can check your speed, heart rate, calories per hour, power output and so on. Many of us don't use this information, though. Rather than just counting calories, monitor your heart rate at, say, 13kph. Then, after a few weeks of training, see if you can run at 13kph at a lower heart rate.

Don't look down

Technique often goes out the window when we run on a machine. While regular runners probably aren't guilty of the cardinal sin of holding on, they may well unwittingly look down - either at their feet or at the controls -  which throws the body out of alignment.  Glance down occasionally, but ensure you are running tall.

Simulate the outdoors

According to the experts, running without any incline isn't the same as running on the flat outdoors. There's no wind resistance to overcome in an indoor workout, and the smooth flat surface of the belt poses less of a challenge than the more erratic surfaces you'll encounter 'out there'. Researchers from the University of Brighton recommend setting the gradient to 2% to simulate the great outdoors.

Be disciplined

Happen upon a hill outside and most likely, you'll just climb it. What alternative is there? But when the gradient gets a little tough on a treadmill workout, it's all too easy to alter the buttons and take the pressure off. Don't be tempted. You're already getting a slightly easier ride by running on the treadmill, so don't let yourself off too easily. Use these sessions to help build mental toughness.

Run with a friend

If you can run on a treadmill next to a friend, it's a great way of injecting some lively competition into your training. A monthly 5km battle with an equally-matched running buddy is a great training incentive. If you're training at the gym alone, you can always surreptitiously race against the person next to you!

Don't do a 'set time' programme

Most treadmills allow you to programme in a set time that you want to run for - the machine then counts down to zero. If possible, avoid this option and start your workout at zero. Why? Because in the first scenario, no matter how good you're feeling, your workout ends as the clock hits zero. If the time is left open, then you can just keep going if you're feeling strong. And that's exactly what you would do outdoors...

Focus internally

You don't need to worry about traffic, stranger danger, getting lost or any other hazards, so use the opportunity to really focus on your running, rather than zoning out with your iPod or thinking about what to buy at the supermarket on the way home from the gym. Allow yourself to tune into your body's rhythm by focusing on your foot strike or breathing. Think about your technique and really try to 'get inside' your body rather than simply passing the time. This is one situation where music can work really well - pick something that motivates you and see how it spurs you on. A UK study from the University of Brunel found that runners could keep going for longer when they listened to upbeat dance music than when they ran in silence.


Treadmill vs real world

Is treadmill running really the same as running outdoors? Well, in a word, no. Although the action of running on a treadmill is arguably the same, the mechanics are slightly different, as in the first scenario, you are actually running on the spot rather than projecting the body forwards, which tends to shorten the stride. And it's the treadmill's belt, not your muscles, that move your legs underneath you. Having said that, the treadmill certainly has its uses. Women who are concerned about running alone are guaranteed a safe environment for starters, and if you're self conscious about running in public, you can at least still get your workout indoors. And, of course, it's a great invention for fair weather runners who don't want to battle the elements. The treadmill is also a useful tool if you are returning to running after an injury, as it reduces the impact on your joints and the flat surface minimises the risk of awkward landings or falls. But don't use it all the time, as it doesn't mimic outdoor running completely.






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