Learning to Love the Treadmill
It’s been a record cold winter in NYC (and much of the rest of the country), so I’ve been spending most of the past three months of aerobic workouts running on a treadmill, AKA the dreadmill: in conversations with friends and fellow runners over the years I’ve heard only a chorus of, “I hate the treadmill. I can’t run on the treadmill.” I used to feel this way too, but I’ve recently realized that in learning to love the treadmill, we’re forced to improve as runners and generally fit people. Here’s my theory.
Problem: the treadmill is essentially a running prison. On the treadmill, you’re going at a certain speed, and in order to adjust that speed you have to press some buttons. There’s little flexibility. There’s little room for error. And the mechanical nature of running on the treadmill means that even if you do reduce your speed by a few tenths of a mile per hour, you might feel just as tired. That’s because the treadmill is demanding you to keep moving forward. Your cadence isn’t going to change a ton from one speed to another. That is what is so hard about the treadmill and why so many people hate it. It asks too much of us as runners.
Solution: improve your strength and stability. The magic ingredient to enjoying running, whether it’s on the treadmill or not, is strength, particularly core strength. This may sound obvious, but I see a lot of people at my gym just hopping on the treadmill for a mile or so, hopping off, and going home (maybe they’ll spend a minute stretching on the treadmill before the run). Women at my gym seem particularly free weight-averse.
If you incorporate two ab workouts a week and at least one weightlifting session each for your legs and arms, I can guarantee you will start to enjoy the treadmill more. (You’ll also look better and will have built-in injury prevention.) You’ll achieve that “silent core” that is so necessary for running efficiency and speed. With stronger arms, hips and legs, your torso won’t twist from side to side so much, your arms will feel lighter and easier to move forward and backward, and you’ll push off your feet faster and more fluidly.
The result is that running will feel like clockwork — and that’s what you need in order to enjoy the treadmill. If you can enjoy the treadmill, you’re more likely to stick to your fitness goals and get faster, whether you’re planning to do races or not. It’s just nice to be able to rely on the treadmill a few times a week if you need to.
The number one exercise I recommend for this if you don’t have time for weightlifting is planks. Front planks and side planks. Side planks are extremely hard, I know! Everybody hates them, for essentially the same reason they hate treadmills. So in other words, they hold the key to a treadmill workout that does not feel like death! If you can build up to holding your front and side planks for 1 minute each, twice a week, I believe you will become a better runner.
Below are three core workouts that will help you achieve treadmill nirvana. These are tough, but there is enough variety here to keep things interesting.
Core Yoga Tutorial / Athleta Chi Blog
7 Ways to Make Planks Harder / Women’s Health Magazine
Build Running-Specific Core Stability / Running Times Magazine