The New Year means many people will be hopping back on their treadmills. But this gym staple often gets a bad rap from the workout world. Boring, monotonous, torturous — they’re all words often associated with the machine. With winter weather in full swing, though, it may be the only practical option for those ready to shed holiday pounds. Experts offer tips to ensure the best workout possible.
Emphasize interval training
“People often hop on a treadmill for long, slow runs — they’re trying to zone out,” says Rob Sulaver, owner of the New York City-based Bandana Training and a certified personal trainer. “But it’s more effective to do aggressive interval training, both from an exercise science and experiential perspective.”
So while pushing one button and doing a mindless 30-minute run may seem like the most painless option, it may actually be sabotaging your routine. According to the experts, the body responds better to a variety of hard running and recovery.
“You can mix it up any way you want — one minute of hard running and one minute of recovery running is a good place to start, but you can do any variety,” he explains. The key is to kick up your heart rate at a higher intensity, which takes your body longer to recover. This, according to Sulaver, provides an after-burn effect, encouraging your body to continue burning calories even after the workout.
Intervals also offer another important perk: relieving boredom.
“People say their time on the treadmill goes faster because they’re concentrating on a particular interval segment,” explains Bill Pierce, chair of the Health Sciences Department at Furman University, co-founder of the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training and co-author of the book “Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster.”
As for those preset intervals on the treadmill, Pierce prefers the manual adjustment instead.
Keep it safe
A good workout is impossible if you’re injured. And Sulaver has seen many people skimp on safety — especially on treadmills.
“Don’t lift weights on a treadmill,” he warns. “It’s more of a circus act than a legitimate workout and is multitasking gone wrong.”
Also remember your form. “Many people will change their running form on a treadmill, landing on their toes or forefoot and getting too close to the front of the machine,” Pierce explains, adding that this behavior could strain your Achilles or cause lower-leg soreness.
Make sure you look straight ahead and don’t hold on to the bars or railings while running.
Although you may be running on a more friendly terrain than what you would find outdoors, it’s still important to wear good running shoes. You don’t need a special type for the treadmill, according to Sulaver, but you should make sure the fit is right.
Focus on the benefits
You may give your workout a boost by focusing on what the treadmill can offer rather than what it lacks.
The most obvious is convenience — allowing you to run in any weather condition or at any time of day, and being able to stay hydrated without lugging a bottle around.
Pierce emphasizes the value of having the pace set for you, especially for beginning runners. “You get to make a decision about pace and set it, which enables you to concentrate on other things like form, breathing and visualization,” he says.
Most treadmills also have variable inclines. This feature allows runners to control elevation changes. “Often, people like to do hill repeats, but when you run up the hill outdoors, you have to run back down it, which can cause soreness,” Pierce explains. “With a treadmill, you don’t have to run downhill, so there’s less stress on the body.”
Of course, if you’re planning to compete in a race, you’ll have to actually run the terrain to properly train for it. But Sulaver disagrees with road-running purists who see little value in treadmills. “It’s a tool like anything else. If you use it well, it can provide a great workout,” he says.
The goal of your workout should be the same, regardless of what you’re running on, says Pierce. “You still need to train with purpose,” he explains. “Every run needs to be designed to do that.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services