Do you just turn on your treadmill and run? If so, you might be missing out on the full potential of your equipment. Here’s a quick rundown on what you can do to get the most out of your treadmill workouts.
Incline - On most treadmills you can raise the incline automatically while you’re running by pressing a button on the console. Other machines have to be adjusted while you’re off the machine. Raising the incline has at least two effects. First, it increases intensity. Running uphill is harder, and many runners use the incline to train for running hills. Perhaps the more common reason people use the incline is that it tends to work the quadriceps and buttocks muscles more than running on flat ground and it works the calves less.
Cushioning adjustment - Unlike commercial treadmills, most home treadmills require you to adjust the cushioning while off the machine. Adjust it too stiff and you won’t get the maximum protection for your joints. Adjust it too soft and it feels more difficult to run, kind of like running on the beach.
Speed - All motorized treadmills allow you to adjust the speed. Many people adjust the speed to one that’s comfortable and just run. A better way is to adjust your speed to fit your objective. The traditional advice has been to run slow and long for weight loss and faster and shorter and harder for cardiovascular health. Many treadmills have programs that guide you between these two general choices. However, recent research has shown the effectiveness of interval training for both weight loss and cardiovascular health. Interval training alternates sprinting with an easier pace. Newer treadmills contain programs to guide you through such a workout. However, it’s almost as easy to set the treadmill to manual and alternate 30 second sprints with 2 minute jogs.
Distance - Virtually all treadmills will track the distance you’ve “travelled.” That can be useful for those who are trying to increase the distance they can go.
Time - Time is really more important that distance. Both for weight loss and cardiovascular health, it seems that it’s the time your heart rate is elevated that has the most direct bearing on the beneficial effects on the body. In any case, the more distance, the more time, so either way you keep track is fine.
Heart Rate - Don’t ignore your heart rate, which is really what most directly shows the effect that your workout has on your body. Most heart rate monitors are in metal contacts on the hand grips. This means gripping the handrail for a short period to get a reading. Target heart rates for different objectives are often in the treadmill’s user’s manual or programmed into the treadmill itself.
Calories Burned - This is the goal for many treadmills users. Therefore, the manufacturers have given these users a way to see their progress directly. However, the way calories burned is estimated is based on all of the above factors. It is a rough estimation and useful for those who like to concentrate on calories. However, many trainees find that by concentrating on the other factors, and on the running itself, they are much more successful. If you don’t get involved in the physical process, you are unlikely to enjoy it and stick with it.
Software - The real progress in treadmills in recent years has been in the built-in workout programs. Not only can you customize your workout to suit your needs, the programs can even keep track of your previous results.
Those are the basic features on a treadmill. But it’s important not to get hung up on them. What separates the successful workout program from an unsuccessful one has a lot more to do the with the user than the treadmill.