The do’s and don’ts of running on a treadmill

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With dark, chilly mornings now the norm for most of Australia, it’s easy for a regular outdoor run to become, well, a little less regular. So, how can you make the treadmill your new exercise buddy? There’s more to it than just pressing go and pounding away. Here, Nardine Presland, an exercise scientist and physiologist with Exercise & Sports Science Australia, reveals her top treadmill tips.

Don’t look down

Looking down at the moving belt can make you feel dizzy and likely to lose your balance.

“Look ahead and visualise your usual running route instead,” Presland suggests. “And focus on keeping your style natural, too – don’t slap your feet.”

Don’t hold on

“If you have to hold onto the rails while you run, it might be time to pull back the intensity,” Presland says. “Having to hold on usually means you’re feeling a bit stuffed!” As soon as you start reaching for the rails, turn down the speed or lower the incline a little. “After warming up, and as you build intensity, gauge your perceived rate of exertion – which is essentially how hard you’re working,” Presland adds. Build up your speed to a point where you can run without holding onto the rails, then ease off for the few minutes before you bring your run to an end.

Don’t skimp on water and air

“Position the treadmill in a space with good air flow or have a fan going,” Presland says. “You sweat more when you run inside as there’s no outside air to draw away moisture. Also have a towel handy and a water bottle within arm’s reach to stay hydrated.”

Don’t forget to cool down

Easing out of your workout is just as important as warming up. “Cooling down returns your heart rate to normal or resting, so you don’t get off the treadmill and feel dizzy,” Presland says. “When you run on a treadmill, imagine a bell curve – start slow, build up the pace, then for at least three minutes before the end, slow the pace again.”

Don’t forget your headphones

When you run on a treadmill, there’s not much to distract you, so banish the boredom with technology. “Put your phone in front of you and watch a favourite show or movie, or if the treadmill has a screen, plug in your headphones to watch TV. You can also listen to music to keep you motivated,” Presland says. “A long, slower run is still beneficial for your health as it increases your incidental activity. Every bit of exercise helps.”

Do mix up your program

Treadmills have a range of in-built programs, so you’re able to mix it up each day and focus on fat-burning, endurance or leg strength.

“If you want a tough workout that burns fat, try out interval training,” Presland says. “Just 20 minutes on a treadmill with hard and easy repetitions is great for fat-burning and will also boost your cardio fitness.” A longer, moderate-paced run will help you boost your endurance, while adding hills will work your legs and butt muscles more.

Treadmills are also great as part of a circuit. “Walk or run for two minutes, jump off and do some abdominal exercises, push-ups or squats, then get back on the treadmill and repeat,” Presland says.

And if you don’t want to run? “Do a fast walk on the flat setting, starting at 6kph.

Build it up every minute to a brisk walk, then add a small incline,” Presland adds.

Do start small and slow

“Always warm up before you start running,” Presland says.

“Start slow – walk on the flat setting, then build up your pace until you’re ready to run.

Don’t get on and go all out immediately as your muscles won’t be prepared for the intensity of running and you’ll get muscle strain.”

Do a virtual class

For extra motivation, download a running app on your phone or tablet. “Place your device on the dashboard of your treadmill, and let someone tell you what to do as you run.” If you’re hitting the treadmill to try to lose weight, check out the app TreadMill Workouts – HIIT Running Routines. It incorporates high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and instructs you on speeds and inclines so you’re not trudging along without getting results.

If you’re keen on training for a marathon, download the RunBetter App, which is designed to mimic actual marathon courses, such as those in Boston, NYC and LA, while on the treadmill. It tells you when to adjust your incline for the hills you’d encounter on the real courses, as well as tracking how far you are along your selected course.

Do wear the right shoes

You don’t need specific shoes for running on a treadmill – you can use the same pair for indoor and outdoor running (as long as your chosen terrain is roads or paths rather than trails). But, as with any shoes, it’s vital to have a pair that fits well, which is why it’s important to get them fitted professionally.

“A foot assessment can identify if your foot rolls in or out, which would require extra cushioning in the heel or forefoot,” Presland says. If you’re running shorter distances (say, 30 minutes a couple of times a week), choose a shoe with moderate support that’s designed for smooth heel-to-toe transitions such as the Brooks Ravenna 9. If you’re doing longer sessions more often (say, one-hour runs most days), choose a shoe with plenty of heel and forefoot cushioning that rates high on durability, such as the Adidas Adizero Adios 3.

Beginner tips

Before you start, make sure you know what the buttons do – ask someone working at the gym to help you. “Make sure you know where the emergency stop button is, and if you’ve bought a second-hand treadmill for home, get it serviced to ensure it’s run-worthy,” Presland says. The treadmill must be on a flat floor with a non-slip mat underneath – an angled floor will mean you run on an angle, putting unnatural stress on your ankles and knees.

For more on running, these are Sam Wood’s tips for running in the dark. Plus, the simple scientifically-proven trick that makes you run faster for longer.

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