December 8, 2016

Top Tips and Workouts to Learn to Love the Treadmill

Winter is here, and hopefully you’re not giving up on running just because it’s cold/snowy out? Take your workout indoors to the treadmill, and you might be surprised by the benefits.

I was catching up on some back episodes of the Runner’s World podcast this weekend, and they did a segment featuring their editors trying out some new treadmills at Runner’s World headquarters. The editors emphasized how much they all hate running on treadmills and would much rather run outside, which surprised me. The treadmill is such a great training tool, but I didn’t always think of it that way. In fact, I used to hate running on a treadmill and avoid it at all costs. These days, though, I almost prefer running on the treadmill! So I thought I’d write a post about how I made that switch from treadmill-hater to treadmill-lover.

I used to never go near the “dreadmill”, as I referred to it. If I was at the gym doing cardio, it was always on the elliptical. Low impact, better on the joints, right? But while spending time on the elliptical can be a good way to build your cardio fitness, it doesn’t really help you train for speed.

The elliptical CAN be a good workout, but I find that I can’t zone out on it like I can the treadmill, or else I’m barely getting my heart rate up. You have to stay really mindful on the elliptical in order to keep pushing the pace.

And while some hardcore runners may say they run through any weather, there can be times where the weather really is too bad for you to get your run in outdoors – like in a blizzard. Two years ago, I did my first long run on the treadmill (lots of tips in there for how I got in a mindset to do it), and I’ve now even done nearly seventeen miles in one treadmill run! I promise: the treadmill is more fun than you think.

17 Miles On The Treadmill
Incredibly proud after doing 17 miles on the treadmill ALL BEFORE WORK.

More recently, I trained for a 5K this fall almost exclusively on the treadmill, and I loved doing so. I didn’t need to constantly look at my watch while training to see if I was hitting my prescribed paces; I was able to just “set it and forget it”. And while people say treadmill running doesn’t prepare you for an outdoor race, I actually think this “set it and forget it” approach paid off on race day. Because I wasn’t used to checking my watch every few seconds, I ran mostly by feel (Adam tried to slow me down at the beginning, but it still wasn’t the same as me constantly checking my watch). I ended up finishing the race much faster than I would have expected – PRing by nearly 90 seconds! I think if I had been looking at my watch constantly and slowing down to stick with my plan, I would have finished in a much slower time.

So with that proof, let’s move on to a few common reasons that runners hate the treadmill, and how I’ve addressed them:

1. On a treadmill, your run can be monotonous. There aren’t any stoplights, hills, or people/animals to break up your pace. But this one is an easy fix: just change your pace or incline at set intervals. Last night, I did a basic treadmill progression run: every mile, I picked up the pace by 30 seconds. It’s excellent training if you practice speeding up on already tired legs/lungs!

2. On a treadmill, people complain about boredom due to a lack of scenery. The fix: no, you don’t need one of those fancy treadmills that shows you outdoor landscapes while you run. Instead, try a tactic that’s backed by a study: temptation bundling. Pick out your favorite, most addictive television shows or audiobooks, and make a rule that you only watch them on the treadmill. You’ll be eager to get on the treadmill to find out what happens next! Also, you can take advantage of the lack of road/trail obstacles to zone out from running, and focus on the TV show or nothing at all. (Thinking can reduce your physical capability, so the latter might be your best bet yet.) When you run on the treadmill, you don’t need to watch your step or pay any attention – just keep up with the belt.

3. On a treadmill, it’s easy to end your run sooner than planned. Outside, if you’re doing a loop or an out-and-back, you can’t just stop whenever you feel like it. And I will admit that I’ve sometimes ended treadmill runs sooner than I planned! The fix for this one isn’t easy; you need to start with some motivation, and then perhaps some distraction, like a TV show or a podcast. But even if you’re watching a show, plan your run so that you’re done after a certain distance, not a certain time. If you go for time, you can get lazy and walk – which isn’t very productive. Setting a distance goal will encourage you to speed it up and challenge yourself – the faster you run, the faster you’re done!

This resonate with anyone else? Don’t do your treadmill runs for time; do it for distance, so you can always “take control” by going faster.

So beyond those ways to address common challenges of treadmill running, what are some of the other benefits of taking your run indoors?

1. The ability to force a challenge. Were you assigned certain speeds to hit during a workout, but worried you’re not capable of achieving them? There’s no tentative on the treadmill – you push the buttons and then have to just keep up with what you put in. Challenge accepted! Here’s my favorite treadmill sprint workout, which I did weekly in training to break my 5K PR.

2. On the flip side: the ability to change your plan. Sometimes when I run, I don’t follow a plan. Outside, that can be tricky – if the route I’m running has me heading toward a big hill, I can’t avoid it even if I’m not feeling great. But on the treadmill, I can adjust things on the fly. If I start feeling bad after mile 2, then I can take the incline or the pace down for mile 3 to give myself a bit of recovery. Alternately, if I’m feeling great – time to pick it up for a challenge! Of course you can always slow down or speed up outdoors, but it helps me be aware of how hard I’m pushing (or not) when I can constantly see my incline, speed, and heart rate. No more of those annoying “phantom” inclines where you can’t figure out why you seem more tired but then eventually you realize it was a slight steady grade up. Which leads me to…

3. The ability to easily compare across runs. Rather than worrying about whether a different route / change in weather was responsible for your change in speed, or if you really were faster/slower, the treadmill lets you control for external factors. I loved seeing my progression on a half mile interval workout this fall!

4. The ease of fueling. If you’re training for a marathon and doing your long run on the treadmill, like I did, you can have all your snacks/drinks right next to you. Makes refueling really easy, and allows you to better simulate the frequency of aid stations on a marathon course. And if you eat/drink too much and need to hit the bathroom? No problem – there’s one close by, well stocked with toilet paper. The treadmill provides a great opportunity for those with sensitive stomachs to try out various forms of fueling, without risk.

5. The ability to sneak some cross training into your workout. For those of you who hate the idea of purely lifting weights/doing yoga/etc, try mixing it into your run. Taking a cue from Orangetheory and other similarly-structured interval studios, try doing short intervals on the treadmill mixed in with weight training. Check out this burpee/sprint pyramid I tried at Orangetheory. You can also invent all kinds of short treadmill intervals interspersed with sets of weight lifting, and put your dumbbells right next to the treadmill so you’re wasting no time in between activities.

I would suggest being sure to stop the treadmill before you head for the weights though – this guy might have been a little TOO efficient in his run-to-weights transition. (PS – I’ve totally fallen off a treadmill before… but I got over it.)

All in all, treadmill running is pretty awesome. And as an early Christmas gift to myself, I recently bought a treadmill from a neighbor for just $100! (In the past, I’ve just been using gym treadmills.) So now I get all these benefits, without even having to drive to a gym – Merry Christmas, indeed 🙂


6 thoughts on “Top Tips and Workouts to Learn to Love the Treadmill”

  1. Love all of these tips! I recently spent a lot of time running on the treadmill while on vacation – too hot to run outside and not the greatest routes. It was actually kind of enjoyable especially being able to vary the speed and incline and distracting myself with TV.

    1. Yes! Especially in the winter – there are times I don’t want to run outside but I am actually eager to run on the treadmill. It’s nice to have both as an option!

  2. Great tips! My treadmills been gathering dust for a while now and I’m slowing trying to learn to love it again especially now that it’s just too cold to be running outdoors!

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