How To Use A Treadmill Properly
It’s in every gym and is the subject of memes everywhere about people hating it. It’s very simple to use, and is weirdly enough, my favourite piece of exercise machinery. Let’s talk about the treadmill and how to use a treadmill properly.
Why I Love The Treadmill
I am a bit of a fitness oddball – I am one of the few people apparently that enjoy the treadmill.
For me it is convenient, and it is efficient. I have a fairly hefty step target – usually 12-15k steps a day – and to hit that, while working full time, running 2 blogs, and also fitting in some other training, I need to be smart about it.
I don’t have to worry about listening for traffic, weather, or other people – just me, my steps, and whatever I am watching or listening to.
Also, I can just set a speed and incline and leave it at that, so it is very much set-and-forget.
Don’t get me wrong, I love walking outdoors. But as someone who will often still feel cold in the height of summer, I am very sensitive to weather so it isn’t always great for me.
With walking, I like to mix indoors and outdoors. But running, for me, has to be on the treadmill.
Again, I don’t have to worry about traffic, people, uneven pavement, keeping my speed, or other interruptions. I can just set a speed and incline and go with it.
It’s less to think about, and as with walking, much more “set and forget”.
Common Treadmill Mistakes
There are some common mistakes with using a treadmill that we want to try and avoid, in order to use it safely and use it well.
You’ve probably seen before where people will get on a treadmill, at a high walking speed, with a steep incline, and hold on to the handlebars for dear life.
There are a lot of problems with that setup. I am sure that is doing something. But there are probably better, and safer ways to get yourself the same, or a better result.
First of all, you’re probably not working as hard as you may think you are. Especially if you are looking at the (typically inaccurate) “calories burned” metric that most treadmill displays offer, it’s going to register a much higher number than what you’re actually doing.
When you grip tightly, there’s a good chance you’re also tensing your shoulders which can lead to tightness or injury around your neck, especially if you do this regularly.
Your technique goes out the window and you might find your feet are stomping on the treadmill, which can send impact forces through your knees. Another injury risk.
And lastly, bear in mind that by gripping the treadmill, your upper body is being kept straight and relatively still, whereas your lower body is turning and twisting to keep up with the speed and incline you’ve set.
It won’t always happen, but there is a good chance that can lead to a back injury at some point down the line.
Unless you have a specific need or reason to hold on to the treadmill, it will often be safer and more effective for your workout to set a speed and incline that are challenging, but that you can maintain for your workout without needing to hold on to the treadmill.
You’ll get the full benefit of the exercise and feel your workouts, which is likely to give you a longer-term reward.
This applies to walking in general, but I have noticed it happens particularly commonly on a treadmill. And that is allowing your feet and toes to turn outwards with each step.
You can test this for yourself. Start walking, look down and check where your feet are positioned. Are they still pointed straight or have they flared outwards?
It’s common for people who have desk-based jobs. They will often sit for hours with their knees splayed out, which gradually starts to turn the feet out too.
What you really need to do is give yourself the conscious focus to straighten your feet. Keep your knees and toes in a line pointing forward.
And then just keep consistent with that.
What you’ll find, and you may be you’ll be able to tell, is that if your inner thigh muscles or inner leg muscles are a little bit weaker, you are going to start to feel them working. It will be quite subtle but you may start to notice them working more just to keep your knees straight.
The knee joint is a hinge joint – it is designed to allow your lower leg to bend back and return to neutral, by flexing or extending at the knee. It’s not ideal to try to keep putting sideways forces through them with your toes going outwards while you go forwards.
Outdoors, especially on grass, softer surfaces will absorb impact so your knees and joints have some protection. The treadmill is usually a firm, flat, unforgiving surface in that respect, and there isn’t really anything in most treadmills to absorb that impact.
Especially if your technique needs some improvement, you may find that your heels or the balls of your feet are stomping on the treadmill. You’ll be able to tell from that loud bang with each and every footstep.
In this sort of situation, it makes sense to pull it back a bit, refine your technique and then start to build up speed again. Usually, high impact is down to lack of control, or lack of technique, so slowing down will let you look at both.
And this applies to both walking and running on the treadmill.
Using Cardio Machines Properly
While I focused the above on the treadmill, the same applies to other cardio machines.
If you are on the cross trainer, you don’t have to worry about impact. But your knees and toes need to still align. Your upper body probably has more work to do to make sure your form stays good and your back is protected.
Even if you’re on an exercise bike, you will need to engage your core, keep your chest lifted, and keep your knees tracking straight.
One advantage with both the cross trainer and the bike is that neither involves much impact on your joints, so there is one less thing to think about.
You Do You
Cardio and cardio machines get a bad rep on social media. I think there is something fashionable for fitness coaches about trying to take down something that doesn’t massively require their coaching input.
But if you enjoy it, and it’s safe, don’t let anyone stop you, and don’t let anyone tell you not to do it. You do you.