Since its emergence into the mainstream market, treadmills have been a simple and effective way to add cardio and lower-body strength training to any exercise routine. In fact, their usability and range of prices mean getting a full-body workout doesn’t require an entire gym. And thanks to noncommercial buying options, running on a treadmill doesn’t require a gym at all.
While you don’t need a machine to get in a running workout, treadmills offer superior performance when compared to outdoor running. Whether it’s blazing hot, raining, or snowing outside, you can still hop on your indoor treadmill to get your scheduled workout in. The cushioned belt on the treadmill also provides a lower-impact exercise when compared to running on concrete. This helps to keep your knees and other joints protected.
You also have complete control over your intensity and incline. Whether you live somewhere that’s flat as far as the eye can see or there are more hills than people, treadmills allow you to choose what incline is best for your health.
Treadmills also give you the ability to track your progress, which can be a huge motivator. You’ll be able to track your distance run and calories burned and monitor your heart rate so you stay in your target zone.
You also have the ability to watch television or read while you’re exercising to double up on the efficiency of your workout. Some offices even provide treadmill desks to help keep their employees healthy while working.
If you’re looking for a way to increase your cardio health while simultaneously getting in some strength training, treadmills offer versatile workout options for everyone.
The History and Types of Treadmills
Treadmills are actually devilishly clever exercise devices; while their original function was to efficiently leverage manpower to crush grain or pump water, they were later used as a form of torture in the 1800s.
While an intense workout on a treadmill might feel like torture today, treadmills are an excellent way to add flavor to any exercise routine, no matter your fitness level.
An early version of the modern treadmill didn’t emerge until 1952 when cardiologist Robert Bruce and mechanical engineer Wayne Quinton invented a way to diagnose heart and lung disease. However, the treadmill wasn’t produced for the mainstream market until after “Father of Aerobics” Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper published his research paper on the importance of aerobic exercise in 1968.
Thanks to additional years of research and mechanical tinkering, we have four main types of treadmills today: manual, motorized, folding, and commercial.
As the name suggests, manual treadmills have no motorized components and are powered solely by the user’s own force. They are the least-flashy option and sit at the lower tier of pricing.
Motorized treadmills are the base for the second type of treadmills and can offer you the option of increased speeds and inclines.
Folding treadmills are a great selection for home gyms due to their ability to be folded flat and stored out of the way.
Commercial treadmills come with all the bells and whistles and are usually the type seen at commercial gyms.
Under these main categories, there are many different brands, perks, prices, and styles, so finding the right one will take a little bit of research.
Treadmill Prices, Brands, and Features
Treadmill prices vary depending on your needs, the brand, and any special features that it might include. You should begin by deciding your budget and how you will be using the treadmill, both now and in the future as your fitness level increases.
While entry-level treadmills can start under $300, these come with weaker motors and other components that are more likely to break or need maintenance sooner. Higher-end models can be more than $3,000, though, which is a huge initial cost, especially if you’re only just starting out.
It’s important to strike a balance between cost and quality, which you can usually find in the range of $1,000 to $1,500. While this is a lot of money upfront, investing in a higher-quality treadmill will ensure that you can use it longer rather than buying several low-end machines that will continuously need to be replaced.
When researching treadmills, you want to begin by looking at the maximum weight. Even if your weight isn’t an issue, this can give you an insight into the quality of the treadmill you’re looking at.
A maximum weight of 350 pounds indicates that the machine is robust and can support multiple users over an extended period of time.
You’ll also want to consider the motor horsepower. While there are many aspects of motor specifications and power, a general rule is to go for a motor with at least 1.5 continuous-duty horsepower (CHP). If you are an advanced runner who will be on the treadmill frequently, choose one in the range of 2.5 to 3.0 CHP. Your power motor needs will also be impacted by your weight.
Other basics to consider when buying a treadmill are:
- Belt Size: The belt should be 18 inches wide and at least 48 inches long for users under 6 feet tall. Users above 6 feet tall will need at least 52 inches for walking and 54 inches for running.
- Belt Speed: A treadmill that supports running should have a minimum speed of 10 miles per hour.
- Ramp Incline: Look for a treadmill with a 10% or more incline capability. You should also see if there is a decline feature, as this helps to simulate outdoor running conditions.
- Shock Absorption: Look for a thicker bed that will absorb more footfall impact. The belt should also stay straight and not move as you run.
- Frame Stability: The frame should remain stable as you run or walk on it.
- Safety Features: This includes the presence of handrails, a safety key that can be clipped to your clothing and will automatically turn the machine off if you trip and fall, and automatic slow start, which gradually works you up to your selected speed.
You should also consider any program perks that you might want for your treadmill, like heart rate monitoring. Pulse pads are at the lower end of the spectrum and can be unreliable and promote unnatural body posture. Mid-range treadmills should offer either a chest strap or pulse watch, which will give you more accurate readings. Higher-end models will have programming that tracks your heart rate and adjusts your workout intensity to ensure that you are staying in the correct heart rate zone.
You should also consider programs that offer hill workouts that simulate natural rises and falls in inclines to give you a more realistic and varied workout.
Some program features include the ability to integrate third-party apps or websites to track workouts, suggest new ones, and play music.
You should also decide on the type of screen you want. More expensive options offer interactive screens that simulate running in a variety of locales with a virtual trainer.
A more practical consideration that should be made before selecting a machine is to know exactly where you will be putting your treadmill and the size of the space that you have to work in. This will dictate the size and style of your treadmill, such as whether you will need foldable options.
You should also pay attention to the manufacturer’s warranty, delivery costs, return policies, and any assembly required.
As you conduct your online research, make sure to read any reviews and look for themes in complaints that might alert you to potential issues. Once you’ve narrowed down your ideal selection, it can be a good idea to track down those machines at local sporting goods stores so you can try before you buy.
Correct Treadmill Posture
As with any other exercise, proper form while using your treadmill is important for the effectiveness of your workout and to avoid injuries.
While using your treadmill, don’t lean forward. You want to keep your body upright with just the slightest bend at your hips. Mentally review your posture often to ensure that your shoulders are loose and drawn back rather than hunched over, your spine is straight and natural, and your core is tight.
You should also maintain a focused gaze in front of you rather than looking down at your feet. When checking in with your stride, you can look down occasionally, but you should feel it out more often than visually inspecting it.
Speaking of your stride, you should do your best to keep it as natural as possible. The runway of the belt can promote taking longer or wider strides, but you should avoid this. Choose a foot and count how often it hits the belt in the span of a minute, then multiply the number by two to get your steps per minute.
An average stride count is between 150 and 160 steps per minute, but elite runners average 180 steps per minute. Shorter strides are more efficient for your workout and lower the impact on your joints.
You should also exercise within your target heart rate and keep your breathing steady and deep to provide a stable flow of oxygen to power your workout.
Cardio Treadmill Workouts
30-Minute Tempo Workout
A tempo workout is a straightforward cardio routine. As with all cardio workouts, you should have a way to track your heart rate. This will ensure that your tempo is customized for your fitness level.
Begin with a 10-minute walk for beginners or a light jog for advanced users. The idea of this part is to warm your body up for the more intense phase that is about to begin.
After your 10-minute warmup, move on to 10 minutes of tempo workout. This should be a challenging level for you without making you feel like you’re going to keel over; approximately a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. This can be achieved by either intense walking or running, depending on your fitness level.
Finish with a 10-minute cooldown of either slower walking or a light jog. Your cooldown should gradually lower your intensity from a 7 to a 1 on the same scale.
30-Minute HIIT Workout
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are a great way to fluctuate between a moderate level of exercise and the most intense exercise you can safely do.
Begin with a 10-minute warmup of walking or light jogging, which will be dictated by your fitness level. For the next 16 minutes, you will be alternating between a one-minute high-intensity workout and one minute of recovery time for a total of eight sets.
Complete your workout with a five-minute cooldown. The HIIT portion of this workout can be customized for your fitness level. For example, you can run at a high intensity for only 30 seconds if a minute is too long, just be sure to increase the number of sets accordingly. Be honest about what’s right for you.
30-Minute Hill Workout
If your treadmill has the capacity, a hill workout is a great way to mix in resistance training with cardio. A good starting place is a 7% incline, but you can alter this depending on your fitness level.
Start with an easy 10-minute warmup, then move into 15 minutes of alternating between two minutes of hill work followed by one minute of recovery for five sets. Finish with a five-minute cooldown phase.
30-Minute Endurance Workout
Endurance workouts are good for days following a more intensive workout, such as HIIT or hill workouts.
Start with a three-minute easy warmup and then proceed into 25 minutes of a steady pace, about a 5 to a 6 on the intensity scale. Finish with an easy two-minute cooldown period.
Strength Training Treadmill Workouts
Combining your treadmill cardio workout with strength training is a great way to optimize your time. Since treadmills already provide a good lower-body workout, we’ll focus on upper-body strength training. However, if you want to increase the resistance for your lower body, you can use a resistance band around your thighs while you walk.
It’s also important to note that all of these exercises should only be completed while you are walking. Trying to multitask strength training with running could result in serious injuries. You should also avoid making any sacrifice to your posture while combining these exercises.
Treadmill Resistance Band Exercises
Resistance bands are a great option for treadmill use because they’re light and fairly noninvasive to your workout space. Some good resistance band exercises to try on the treadmill are:
- Bow and Arrow: Begin with your arms bent and hands at your chest, holding both sides of the band in either hand. Press your left arm out to lengthen in front of you at shoulder height. Keeping your left arm straight, drive your right elbow behind you as if you’re pulling on the string of a bow. Bring both hands to starting position for one rep. Complete all of your reps on one side before switching to the other.
- Chest Press: Loop your band behind your back and bring it forward tucked under your armpits. Grab either end of the band and bring your arms up to shoulder level and then bend at a 90-degree angle for your starting position. Lower one or both hands down to straighten your arm at shoulder height. Return to starting position for one rep.
- Rear Delt Fly: Grab each end of the band in either hand and raise your arms to shoulder height for the starting position. Slowly pull the band outward so your arms end up extended out on either side of your body, maintaining shoulder height. Slowly return to center for one rep.
Treadmill Free-Weight Exercises
Free weights can target different muscles from your resistance bands but should be done with a smaller weight, ideally 5 pounds, to avoid excess stress on your joints.
- Overhead Press: Take your weights in either hand. With your arms at your sides, bend your elbows while raising your weights to your shoulders to get into starting position. Lift straight up until your arms are fully extended. Return to the starting position for one rep.
- Biceps Curl: Begin with your weights in either hand with your arms at your sides and your palms facing out toward your front. Keeping the elbow bent, raise one weight up to shoulder height. Bring back down to starting position for one rep on one side. Alternate sides to complete your reps.
- Bent-Arm Side Raise: Begin in your starting position with weights in either hand, elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, and palms facing in toward each other. Using your shoulders as a hinge, keep your elbows bent and raise your arms to the side until they are shoulder height. Lower to the starting position for one rep.
Mistakes to Avoid When Using a Treadmill
Never skip your warmup or cooldown. Warmups can actually make your workout more effective, and both warmups and cooldowns can help prevent injuries.
Don’t hang onto your treadmill. This is especially important to keep in mind when you are using pulse pads or have an increased incline. Your goal should always be to maintain a natural, upright posture.
Don’t stomp your feet. Not only can this damage your body, but it can also damage your treadmill. Focus on running softly, making sure to hit the belt mid-foot, and push off with a fluid range of motion.
Don’t stick with one routine. Not only will this become monotonous, but it will limit your progress in regard to muscle and cardio training. Switching up your program each time you hit the treadmill is a good way to maintain interest in working out and ensuring that your workout is varied enough to provide more effective training.
Making Treadmill Workouts Fun
The great thing about treadmill workouts is that they can be tweaked for any fitness level. This makes treadmills an attractive option because not only is there a low entry point for beginners, but exercises can be customized as your fitness level increases.
A fun way to add a little spice to your treadmill workout is to do the commercial challenge. Every time a commercial comes on, switch your routine up. This can include increasing your speed, making light jumps forward, or doing a side shuffle (make sure to alternate sides between each commercial). If you don’t watch television during your workouts, you can use any other initiator that is relevant to you.
Treadmill workouts can be as interesting as you are creative. Just make sure to keep your posture natural with an extended spine, squared shoulders, and a tight core.