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Making the Most of Your Time on a Treadmill

Let’s face it. Walking and running on a moving belt inside an enclosed space is not the most exciting activity. But many of us find ourselves on a treadmill at one time or another due to time, weather, or logistics, and if you have to get your steps in on a machine, you might as well make the most of it. Here are some of the most important dos and don’ts of exercising on a treadmill.

To begin with, put your phone down. That’s right. Fiddling with your phone while on the treadmill hampers your exercise in a couple of ways. First of all, if you’re walking so slowly that you can play Candy Crush or text your crush, you’re not getting much exercise. Sure, treadmills can be boring, but try listening to music or watching TV. This way, your head is up, your hands are free, and you can move much more quickly. A bent head not only slows you down, but it’s also bad for your posture. And, seriously, who wants to spend hours on a treadmill only to develop slumped shoulders?

Along these same lines, keep your arms moving. Don’t hold on to any part of the treadmill while you’re walking or running. Holding on to the handrails or the front of the machine is a popular mistake because it makes the walk/run substantially easier. If you’re not using your arms, you aren’t getting a cardio workout–you’re simply supporting your body weight on the treadmill instead of relying on your legs, core, and arms to do the work. You burn far fewer calories (in spite of what the monitor might say) and use far fewer muscles. That being said, you should, of course, hold on to the arm rails temporarily if you feel unsteady.

As you’re moving along, make sure your stride is comfortable and normal. It’s a common mistake to either run too close to the front of the treadmill, making your stride short and choppy, or overstriding in an attempt to keep up with the pace you’ve set. If your form feels sloppy, slow down a bit until you feel in control and your stride evens out.

Furthermore, don’t disregard the incline function. Sure, walking or running uphill is harder, but the benefits are immense. Even a slight incline works your legs and lungs harder and can burn up to double the calories, depending on how much of an incline you’re willing to tackle. Most treadmills have a built-in “hill” workout that will take you up successively harder inclines and then level out for a bit so that you can rest and recover before the next set of hills. Studies have shown that constantly keeping the incline at zero can change your form, forcing you to lean back slightly.

Finally, mix things up a bit during your workouts. By far, the number one complaint about treadmills is that they’re boring. And they most assuredly are if all you ever do is set the speed to 3.0 and walk while staring into space. A good way to stay engaged (and less bored) is to constantly change speeds and inclines. Challenge yourself. See if you can cover the same distance faster than you did previously. Find out how long you can climb up a big hill. Try to maintain the same walking/running tempo as the song you’re listening to.

Keeping these tips in mind will help you get the most out of your workout. Sure, treadmill walking and running will never be as awesome as running along a beautiful mountain trail or beach path, but the fitness benefits can be nearly as good.

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