Learn to Love Going Nowhere when you Run: Things to Know About Treadmills

Many people prefer to run outdoors, for obvious reasons. Fresh air, sunshine, and excitement are just a few of the benefits of a good jog outside. But it’s not always sunny, and sometimes a treadmill is exactly what you need to get a fantastic workout.

More and more runners — as well as people simply trying to get fit — are choosing to use a treadmill over other options. After all these years they’re still the top-selling type of fitness equipment. If you’ve been wondering whether or not you should buy one, keep reading…

The Bad Weather Solution

If you run less in the winter because of cold, windy, snowy, icy, or rainy weather, you should definitely add treadmill training to your fitness routine. Granted, many runners like to take a self-imposed break from training, particularly through the holiday season. And a few weeks of R&R is often a great idea, especially if your body can use a short rest. But if you live in a place that has inclement weather for several months of the year, you risk losing your cardiovascular fitness fairly quickly.

We’re not suggesting that you run on a treadmill six days a week from December through March, but there are times when even the most hearty runners shouldn’t venture outside to test their mettle against the elements.

You should run indoors when:

  • The roads, sidewalks, and trails are icy. Running on ice is never a good idea. One fall and you could be out of commission with a pulled muscle or a broken bone for many weeks.
  • A blizzard is raging. Below zero temperatures, fifty-mile-an-hour winds and drifting snow are hardly suitable even for a polar bear marathoner!
  • The temperature, with wind chill, is below -10°. Although you can stay relatively warm with several layers of clothing, you run the risk of severe frostbite of the skin on your face. You can protect your skin with a ski mask and/or a layer of petroleum jelly, but keep in mind that your movements will be restricted because of all the clothing. Under extreme wind chill conditions, a treadmill can be your best buddy.
  • Flash floods are predicted. If it’s raining hard enough that you could be in danger of getting swept away, don’t tempt fate – work out indoors.
  • You may also want to run indoors if the air temperature is below 40°, and it’s raining fairly hard. Hypothermia is a possibility when you get both cold and wet.

Of course, there may be some of you out there who hate the thought of running outdoors as soon as you see a few snowflakes and the temperature dips below freezing. In your case, it won’t be necessary to wait for the extreme conditions mentioned above to enjoy the benefits of treadmill running.

But if you’re a competitive runner, be careful — don’t get too comfortable with running inside. Running on the smooth belt, with no wind in your face is much different than running on the road, track, or trail. Even if you would prefer to run indoors this winter, try to get outside at least once a week.

Getting Started

The first few times you run on a treadmill you’ll probably feel uncoordinated, maybe even a little silly, and you might be concerned that you’re going to fly off the back!

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Everyone feels the same way the first time they use a treadmill. Even great athletes often stumble the first time they step foot on that moving belt. The following guidelines will help make your first treadmill experiences easier:

  • Start out walking. Even if you always run a 9:00 mile in training, don’t set the speed at 6.6 mph (the equivalent of a 9:05 road mile) and start running. You need to acclimate yourself to the feeling of your foot being pulled beneath you on the belt. Set the speed instead of at 5.0 (the equivalent of a 12:00 road mile), so you can walk/jog for ten minutes or so until you begin to feel comfortable.
  • Don’t hold onto the handrails once you’ve started running. Initially, you may feel more comfortable if you lightly touch the handrails during your warm-up walk, but don’t get into the habit of relying on the handrails for support.
  • Focus on the control panel until you feel comfortable enough to look up. Try to avoid looking down at your feet, it makes some people dizzy. Once you’re feeling sure of your technique, begin looking up for a few seconds at a time, then back down again. Eventually, you should be able to do your entire workout looking ahead, either watching a TV, looking in a mirror, or watching other people. (Hint: avoid watching the feet of other people running on a treadmill as well. It can also make you dizzy.)
  • Don’t swing your arms out to the sides. Running on the treadmill is a good way to work on your form. If you have a tendency to swing one or both arms out from the elbows when you run, once you’ve hit them against the handrails a few times, you’ll soon learn to run with them closer in!
  • Stay in the center of the belt, don’t let yourself drift too far to the left or right. Don’t try to “push” against the belt, let yourself stay in the air while the belt runs out from underneath you.

You’ll feel like you’re running much faster than the per-mile pace you set on the control panel. That’s a normal reaction, which will probably never go away, even when you become a treadmill aficionado. Don’t lean forward or too far up on your toes. Try to hit the belt slightly back of your mid-foot and roll forward onto the ball of your foot.

When you step off the treadmill, you’ll feel a little off-balance for a few minutes. It’s also a normal reaction. Use that time to stretch out and acclimate your body to being back on solid ground.

I’m Bored!

It can be boring running on a treadmill, but there are tricks you can play to make it interesting.

  • Watch videos on your smartphone or a TV.
  • Listen to music on headphones.
  • Do fartlek or speed-play workouts. Once you’ve warmed up, vary the speed for short amounts of time. For example, increase the speed to a 9:00 minute-mile for three minutes, then drop it back to a 9:30 mile for two minutes, then increase it to an 8:50 mile for three minutes, and so on.
  • Do hill workouts. Vary the elevation at regular intervals.
  • Watch yourself in a mirror so you can concentrate on your form.
  • Visualize yourself running in a race.
  • Hang pictures of runners or other athletes you admire on the walls around your workout room and focus on them while you’re running.


Because you run on a treadmill with less effort, consider increasing the elevation to at least one percent. If you leave it at zero percent elevation, you’ll be running slower than the mile-per-hour setting indicates because you don’t have to overcome wind resistance on the treadmill. As you increase your elevation, you will be equal to the effort required to walk across the ground at that speed.

Also, keep in mind that the pace per mile settings are not entirely accurate, and neither are the mileage indicators. And forget about the “calories burned” calculations. Base your workout on your heart rate or perceived exertion and estimate mileage by elapsed time.

Should I buy a Treadmill?

OK, now that we’ve got you thinking about the advantages of using a treadmill, you’re probably wondering whether or not you should buy one. Buying a treadmill depends on several factors:

  • Will you use it? Running on a treadmill can be boring, some people never get used to using one. If you’re not going to use it at least once a week, join a health club, YMCA, or gym and run indoors there. Keep in mind however that during their busiest hours many workout facilities limit the time you can use cardiovascular equipment, often to just thirty minutes.
  • Can you afford it? A good treadmill is expensive; expect to pay several thousand dollars. On the other hand, it may end up being less expensive than a health club membership that you never use. After all, if the weather is so bad that you can’t get to the health club, having your own treadmill will pay for itself over a few winter seasons.
  • Do you like to run alone? Running on a treadmill is a lonely endeavor. If you prefer running with a group, join a health club where you’ll have company on the exercise equipment.
  • Do you live in an area where there are few if any hills? If you want to increase your strength and endurance, but you live where there aren’t hills, a treadmill provides a training edge. On a treadmill, you can run all the hills you want!
  • Are you a competitive runner? If you are, you may want to invest in a treadmill so you won’t miss any training days if the weather stays nasty for long periods of time. You can also use a treadmill to practice racing, do speed work, and hill workouts (without having to run back downhill!)

What Should I Look For?

If you decide to buy your own treadmill, look for the following features:

  • The miles-per-hour setting should go up to 10.0, which is equivalent to a 6:00 minute mile. Even if you’ll never run that fast, you still want a treadmill with a motor that’s strong enough to handle that pace. If you’re a competitive athlete you’ll probably want a machine that you can set even faster.
  • The incline setting should go to ten percent.
  • The belt should be wide enough that when you’re standing in the middle, you have at least two inches on either side. The belt should be a minimum of eighteen inches.
  • The treadmill should feel sturdy. It shouldn’t feel wobbly. The belt should move smoothly beneath your feet and you shouldn’t feel any jerking or catching motion.
  • Health club quality machines are obviously the best, as they’re designed to handle considerable wear and tear. They’re also the most expensive, but in this case, you do get what you pay for.
  • Don’t buy a used treadmill from a retailer that specializes in used sporting goods equipment. It may be true that the machine was only used only twice, but if you don’t know for sure, don’t take the chance. Besides any guarantees and warranties usually don’t transfer to a new owner.

As you can see, there are many good reasons to use a treadmill. And there are even more that we’ll cover in a future post. For now, let us know what you think by leaving your questions and comments below!