Do you prefer the steady pace and indoor comfort of the treadmill to running in the great outdoors? If you’re a dedicated treadmill runner, there are some easy changes you can make to boost your fitness, tone your butt, and burn more kilojoules.
It’s easy to see why so many people choose to run on treadmills rather than outdoors. First, it's comfortable; the temperature is never too hot or too cold, it never rains, it's never dark, and there are no harsh UV rays to worry about prematurely ageing your skin. Secondly, the ability to multitask on treadmills comes as a huge bonus to busy bodies. Who doesn't enjoy catching up on a favourite TV show while doing a bit of exercise? And thirdly, for those who are motivated by numbers and results, the dashboard displaying the number of kilometers, minutes and kilojoules burnt can spur on even the most novice athlete.
Adding to the appeal is the fact that treadmill runners are far less likely to suffer from the same ailments as their outdoor running friends. The treadmill's padded surface absorbs part of the impact of each stride, meaning indoor runners are much less likely to join the ranks of runners with knee and joint complaints. And because a treadmill can only simulate flat surfaces and hills, people who choose to run on treadmills will never run downhill - avoiding the running position most likely to do damage to their knees.
The problem with always running on a treadmill
But the one obvious problem with running on treadmills is that it’s easier - there’s no need to battle against wind or resistance to move forward. The treadmill’s constant flat surface and regulated pace also reduces the real-life challenges of running outside.
If you head to the gym and run on a flat surface at the same pace for 30 minutes, you're not making the most of your time on the treadmill, and you're not getting the same benefits as running outdoors. But a few easy fixes can give you all the benefits of outdoor running. Here’s how to get more from your treadmill time:
Add some hills for a better butt
Researchers at the University of Georgia found that uphill running activates 9% more muscle per stride compared with running at the same relative exertion on flat terrain. And the muscles receiving the greatest benefit? Your butt and the back of your thighs. If you want legs of steel and a jiggle-free behind, adding hills to your treadmill time is a sure-fire way to get you there.
Add intervals to get fitter, faster
If you think the best way to get fit quickly is to run as fast as you can for as long as you can, you’re wrong. Interval training is the quickest way to boost your fitness, and best of all, it’s easier to do on a treadmill than outdoors. The principle of interval training is to repeat a cycle of short, high intensity bursts of speed, with slow, recovery phases. Because your fitness is based on the rate at which you recover, continuing to ‘practice’ this rotation of exercise and recovery trains your body to recover more efficiently, boosting your fitness levels.
Interval training has also been proven to boost your metabolism during the time after your workout, helping you burn more kilojoules than exercise performed at a steady pace. Need we say more?
If you want to boost your fitness and burn more fat in a 30 minute session on a treadmill, try running as fast as you can for one minute, then running at a slower pace for a minute to recover, repeating 15 times. Do this a couple of times a week and you’ll start to notice your running speed, and the distance which you can run, improve dramatically.
Don't hold on
If your treadmill style is to amp up the incline to 15 per cent and hold on for dear life as you trek up a monstrous hill, you're likely doing more damage than good. When you hold on to the safety rails, you lift some of your body weight off your lower body, eliminating the weight-bearing benefits of walking and running. The action of holding on essentially cheats your legs, butt and stabilising muscles out of doing any real work. It can also be a danger to your spine and alignment.
And don’t be fooled by the number of kilojoules it says you're burning. Walking or running hands-off burns 20 to 25 per cent more kilojoules for the same length of time.
If you want to keep the incline up near the 15 per cent mark, lower your speed and lose the grip. You’ll give your legs and butt a much better workout and you'll burn significantly more kilojoules.