Staying Fit

Maximize Your Treadmill Time

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By Nick Parkinson, M.Ed., ATC, AT

We’re designed to run, but on dark, dreary days, you may prefer to stay in shorts and a T-shirt and do so where it’s warm: indoors! Treadmills offer a convenient, challenging and calorie-burning workout, all in a self-created environment complete with favorite tunes, an engrossing novel, even a favorite TV show.

Trouble is, if you pound the belt with the same 30-minute run day after day, you may start to feel like a hamster on a wheel. What’s worse, over time your body adapts to your workout and your muscles become more efficient, meaning you burn fewer calories. But don’t fret. Even if you’ve been running on a treadmill for decades, there are things you can do to maximize your workout:

  1. Increase the intensity. Instead of trudging along at a steady pace, mix up your speed. Most treadmills come with a variety of settings, including “interval,” “fat-burning,” and “steady incline.” Select one of these pre-programmed options or create your own by modifying the treadmill’s pace and incline. Run at a high intensity for three to four minutes, then at an easy pace for six to eight minutes. The harder the intensity, the longer your recovery period before you hit the next sprint.
  2. Switch things up. Don’t be afraid to add floor exercises to your routine. Step off the treadmill and do a quick five-minute circuit of push-ups, squats, sit-ups or weights — then return to the treadmill for another five minutes. You’ll minimize boredom and get a full body workout to boot. Just be aware of anyone nearby, to avoid intruding on others and to stay safe.
  3. Go high tech. Heart rate monitors, apps and other gadgets can help you keep things interesting on a treadmill. In some cases, you can program a whole month of workouts into a monitor to take the guesswork out of reaching your target heart rate. Monitors not only tell you when you reach your target zone, they also tally how many calories you’ve burned, track your progress over time and help you modify your workouts accordingly.
  4. Go off the rails. Side-stepping on the treadmill in a slow shuffle is a great way to warm up, cool down and open up your hips. Carefully stand sideways, so one of your ears is facing the front of the treadmill, then slowly side-step. Make the same shuffle motion as you would on flat ground — clicking foot to foot, moving sideways — but make sure to switch directions midway through and do an equal amount of shuffling on each side.
  5. Watch your form. A lot of people blame injuries on the treadmill, but post-workout pain usually comes from poor running technique. Since the treadmill is moving for you, people tend to strike with their heel, which can cause strain in the knees and hips. Stay as vertical as possible and walk or run as you would normally — landing mid-foot or on the ball of your foot, not your heel.

Been working out on a treadmill for months but not getting the results you want? Talk to a fitness professional. Sometimes getting advice helps you reframe your focus and shake things up.

Always get clearance from your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. If you need a primary care doctor, call 1-800-HenryFord or visit

From injury prevention to treatment of sports-related conditions, visit for an appointment within 24 business hours or to download our sports medicine app, featuring first aid/injury help, videos for all athletes, contact information for physicians and trainers, and more.