The hamster’s hell.
The death belt.
Geez. The way people talk about the treadmill, you’d think it was a medieval torture device. Mention a treadmill to a group of runners, and you’ll be met with a symphony of groans, accompanied by a list of why the treadmill sucks.
Because, really – the treadmill effin’ sucks. You don’t go anywhere cool, commune with flora and fauna, or feel the sun on your face. Nope. You get on the belt, turn it on, and run (and run, and run…for what feels like forEVER). The treadmill, essentially, has no benefit to anyone who wants to enjoy running.
Or does it?
If the treadmill sucks so much, why do so many exist?
If they were so horrible, people wouldn’t use them. Yet there are rows upon rows of treadmills at most gyms, so there must be something good about them. Actually, there are a bunch of a reasons why a perfectly sane runner might opt to stay inside for a spin on the old ‘mill:
Comfort – When it’s negative 30 degrees in Milwaukee or 115 in Phoenix, the treadmill can offer a welcome respite from harsh conditions.
Convenience – If your workout is a mixed bag (say, a swim, a run, and a weightlifting session), sometimes it just makes sense to do it all at the gym.
Safety – If you have an odd schedule, a run may just have to happen at 4 AM or 11 PM. Running outside in the dark poses a lot of safety hazards, many of which can be eliminated by running indoors on a treadmill.
Multitasking – A lot of us use running as our escape, our chance to do one thing and nothing else. But for some, it’s an opportunity to multitask. On the treadmill, people can watch the news or read work briefs. One couple I know, whose running speeds are vastly different, use treadmill workouts as a way to be there to motivate each other!
Injury Prevention – If you are prone to injury when running on the sidewalk, a treadmill, which absorbs more shock, can reduce pain and discomfort.
Speed – During speed or tempo workouts, it’s easy to drop your effort without realizing it. You may estimate you’re running an 8 minute per mile pace, then look down at your watch and realize that’s not the case at all. The treadmill eliminates that guesswork – if you can’t keep up with the treadmill, you’ll get tossed. Simple as that.
3 workouts to help you maximize your treadmill time
I’ve been using the treadmill in my training for my first attempt at qualifying for Boston. My coach, Mario Fraioli, likes to
torture challenge me, but thanks to his training (which includes treadmill workouts), I’ve gotten significantly faster.
Here are three treadmill workouts Mario wrote to share with No Meat Athlete readers:
1. Marathon-Paced Tempo Run
Success at longer races such as the half marathon and marathon is all about pacing and discipline. What better place to practice running goal race pace than on the speed-controlled contraption called the treadmill?
Warm up with 10 to 15 minutes of easy jogging followed by 20 to 50 minutes of running at your goal pace for your upcoming half marathon, followed by a 10 to 15 minute cooldown. For the marathoners, begin with 10 minutes of easy running before launching into goal marathon pace for 30 to 60 minutes. Finish up with 10-15 minutes of easy jogging to get your heart rate back down.
Take advantage of this opportunity to not only practice running goal race pace, but also to work on dialing in the demands of your body’s nutritional needs at race speed.
2. Break-the-Boredom Fartlek
Let’s face it: running on a treadmill isn’t the most exciting way to spend an hour — but it can be a very productive way to spend an hour if necessary. One way to make the time pass by quickly is to vary the speeds and intensities at which you’re running.
Start by warming up with 15 to 20 minutes of easy running, then run a pyramid of pickups in the following fashion: 1 minute at 15 seconds per mile faster than 5K race pace, 2 minutes at 5K race pace, 3 minutes at 5K race pace, 6 minutes at 10K race pace, 3 minutes at 5K race pace, 2 minutes at 15 seconds per mile faster than 5K race pace, 1 minute faster than 5K race pace. Take 1 minute of easy jogging after the 1, 2 and 3 minute pickups and 3 minutes after the 6-minute pickup. Cool down with 15 to 20 minutes of easy jogging. Before you know it, an hour is up!
3. Progression Session
If you set the treadmill at 9 minutes per mile and leave it there as you plod along for 45 minutes both your body and your mind are likely to get stale. The Progression Session is a workout designed to stave off that staleness.
Here’s how to do it: Say your goal pace for an upcoming marathon is 8:30 per mile. Start your run a minute per mile slower than that, so a comfortable 9:30 pace. Stay there for 10 minutes till your body begins to warm up and your legs get used to the rhythm of the belt underneath your feet. For the next 5 minutes drop the speed down 30 seconds per mile to 9:00 pace. At the 15-minute mark of the workout progress to goal marathon pace, 8:30 per mile, for the next 20 minutes. After spending 20 minutes at goal marathon pace, chop another 30 seconds per mile off the pace, so 8:00 per mile, for 5 minutes. This will be challenging, but maintainable, for a short period of time. Finish up with 5 minutes of easy jogging and walk away with a solid 45-minute progression session under your belt.
Wait! Not so fast!
Before you designate your treadmill as your primary training tool, know that it’s not a magic speed machine. As with sugar-free desserts, Beatles cover bands, and wax figures of celebrities, the substitution is never as good as the real thing.
Treadmills are a smooth, constant surface with consistent environmental conditions. When we run on treadmills, we’re exercising a very specific set of muscles in a very specific set of ways. If you log the majority of your miles on the treadmill, then decide to race on more varied terrain, you’ll be at high risk for injury because your muscles will suddenly need to maneuver and land on your feet in ways they’re not used to. Additionally, because treadmills are so great at absorbing impact, taking to the streets may be a shock to your system (literally!).
Basic physics come into play, too. When you run on the treadmill, the “ground” moves under you, making it easier to move your weight. Some say because of the way the treadmill “grabs” your foot and moves it, running on a flat treadmill is actually the equivalent of running downhill! When you run on the road, the track, or the trail, you’re the one doing all the work. Race day may seem much harder if you’ve spent the majority of your training on the treadmill.
So What’s a Runner to Do?
- Use the treadmill for a very specific purpose (say, tempo runs); do all other workouts outside.
- To counteract the “downhill” effect of running on a treadmill, set the incline to at least 1 percent.
- Find a speed where you are actually pushing the belt backwards a little bit, instead of the belt pulling your feet along.
- Don’t hold on to the handrail or console. This should be an obvious tip, yet so many people still grab on to the treadmills instead of using their arms! If the speed of the belt is so much that you absolutely cannot keep up, then decrease the speed.
- Remember that treadmill speeds are not always exact. Calibration of treadmills doesn’t happen frequently (if at all), so don’t put too much stock into the speeds you hit on your treadmill. Do your time trials on a track flat stretch of road to gauge your true run speeds.
Just like weight machines or pull buoys in the pool, the treadmill is a tool to supplement your training. Use them correctly, and you’ll have a reason to smile when everybody else is whining.