Torture device or modern mechanical marvel? It’s all in the eye—and feet—of the beholder.
Pity the poor treadmill, whose reputation has improved only slightly from the days when it was used to torment prisoners. The name is literally synonymous with drudgery and grind, and even people who love running–at least outside–have been known to call it the “dreadmill.”
But David Siik, a Los Angeles-based running instructor who created the Precision Running program for Equinox gyms, is on a mission to rehabilitate the much-maligned machine. “I fell in love with indoor running because I actually believed that [the treadmill] was such a magnificent piece of engineering,” he says. “We created a moving ground.”
Here’s how he and other experts have made amends with the apparatus—and how you can maybe, just maybe, look forward to your dates with it.
Appreciate the benefits
“The first step to learning to love the treadmill is to change your attitude about it,” says Chris Mosier, a four-time member of Team USA in duathlon and triathlon and a coach in Chicago. Consider this: Unlike essentially any other piece of gym equipment, the treadmill contains a computer that allows you to program and fine-tune every aspect of your workout. “Imagine if your Macbook had a [treadmill] belt. It really is that sophisticated,” Siik says.
Indoor running offers all the health benefits of hitting the roads, from a healthier heart to stronger legs to improved mood. And there are some added perks: The softer belt reduces impact compared to hard pavement or concrete. Plus, you’re protected from sun exposure and air pollution. “It all comes back to the same thing: ‘Wow, this machine is pretty awesome,’” Siik says.
Build a rapport
Truly unlocking the treadmill’s potential involves more than picking a speed and hitting start. Crafting a plan for your time there—even one as simple as increasing your speed by two clicks every minute for 10 minutes—changes the dynamic of the relationship. “I know it sounds a little bit silly, but that tiny bit of interaction with your machine creates a connection,” Siik says. “It starts to erode boredom and gives you something to accomplish.”
Trick the clock
Another effective strategy to beat treadmill boredom: After you warm up, add 30 seconds of faster running every five minutes, recommends David Roche, a pro trail runner and coach. “When you’re doing intervals, the rest periods feel like they’re so short—time seems to speed up. Then during the fast stuff, time slows down. You can really use that to your advantage,” he says.
Follow an exciting workout…
Take things beyond the basics by picking out a fun-sounding workout from a magazine or website. We’ve got some right here, and Siik offers more in his book, The Ultimate Treadmill Workout: Run Right, Hurt Less, and Burn More with Treadmill Interval Training ($17, amazon.com).
Or, get creative and craft your own. Even if you don’t know a lot about running, you can likely scribble out a basic 20- to 30-minute plan. If you’re way off and your plan turns out to be impossible–or too easy–laugh it off as “a fun self-discovery,” Siik says, then just fine-tune the plan for next time.
...then repeat it
Another bonus of running on the treadmill? The ability to tangibly track your progress. After you find a workout you like, repeat it a few times, bumping up your speed or distance as you’re able. Jot down your stats in a notebook, or snap a pic of the treadmill’s display once you finish.
Over time, you’ll notice improvements, whether it’s covering more mileage, increasing your speed, or just feeling better as you do it. “That’s kind of the poetry of running—a micro change in your speed, your pace, or your form adds up to so much by the end of a workout,” Siik says. “With treadmill running, you’re able to create your own goals and monitor them.”
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Use entertainment wisely
Research shows music can make nearly any workout feel easier and more enjoyable. Pro runner and coach Kaitlin Gregg Goodman uses a device called a Mighty ($86, bemighty.com) to listen to Spotify playlists through her wireless headphones (essentials to avoid dangling-cord mishaps)–without her phone.
On extra-long treadmill runs, she totes her iPad to the gym to stream old favorites, such as Friends. “I prefer to watch shows I’ve already seen so I don’t have to be super tuned in—it can make me a little motion sick,” she says. If your treadmill comes equipped with a TV, turn it into a workout tool. “Run the commercials at a harder pace and recover during the show,” Mosier says.
Turn your focus inward
Sometimes paying more—not less—attention to your body’s movements can make your workout more fulfilling and fun. “Try scanning from head to toe as you are running,” says Mackenzie L. Havey, a Minneapolis runner and coach and author of Mindful Running. As you consider each area of the body, notice whether you feel loose or tight, strong or weak, pain-free or achy.
You can also try concentrating on your breath, following it in and out of your mouth, nose, or chest. “While this might feel tedious at first, with some practice it has a way of getting you to just focus on what’s going on in the moment, rather than having your mind get caught up in a negative cycle of thinking about how boring or painful treadmill workouts can be,” Havey says.
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Change your scenery
Unlike outdoor running, treadmills literally put you on the path to nowhere, Siik admits. Still, every gym has at least a few focal points of interest. If the setup and crowds allow, break your workout up by switching machines every so often. “That way you have a different view out the window, a different TV you’re staring at,” Gregg Goodman says. If it helps you make it through, reward yourself with a mini-distraction like checking Instagram for a minute before starting your next segment.
Take a class
Many gyms now offer treadmill classes along the lines of Precision Running at Equinox. Plus, a growing number of treadmill-specific studios are popping up across the country, including Mile High Run Club in New York, Runner’s High in Chicago, and Barry’s Bootcamp, which combines running with weight lifting in multiple cities. These sessions provide instruction, encouragement, and a built-in team to match you, stride for stride. “It’s so inspiring and motivating to know that there are other people around you going through the same thing as you,” Siik says.
Crack a grin
Constantly dwelling—and posting on social media about—your contempt toward the treadmill only reinforces negative feelings, Mosier points out. Try a simple adjustment to your facial expression instead. A small recent study in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise found smiling improved running performance while making each effort feel easier. (Bonus: This strategy works on outdoor runs too!)
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Give yourself a break
So you’ve tried everything, and you just can’t make it past a mile on the dreadmill. Cut yourself some slack and call that a win, Roche advises. When it comes to long-term results, consistency matters far more than the duration of your effort on any given day. “Keeping it up is the whole idea of training—it’s the only way to actually progress,” he says. Even 10 minutes will suffice, provided you do it regularly.