Once you stop viewing the classic cardio machine as a glorified conveyor belt and start seeing its untapped potential, the more dynamic and metabolic your runs become. Lucky for you, you don’t have to look very long or hard because Andia Winslow, sports performance coach and senior coach at Mile High Run Club, revealed some of the simplest—not necessarily easiest—ways you can ramp up your treadmill workouts.
From running form to workout format, check out these expert-backed tips; then, try Winslow’s Ultimate Fat-Burning Treadmill Workout to put your new skills to the test.
1. Stop running, get creative
Treadmills aren’t one-trick ponies; you just think they are. Next time you’re in the gym or using yours at home, slow down the belt speed (2-3) and perform walking lunges, rotational lunges, squats, and side shuffles. “In doing so, you’ll tax your prime movers in your lower body (quads, hammies, glutes) and build a better foundation for stronger running,” Winslow says. In this instance, the consistent pace of the belt works to your advantage by carrying you forward; you can keep a strong pace. Work a lunge series in at the end of your next run, working through forward, back, and side lunges. Remember: “A stronger lower body means more force applied against the ground, faster speeds—oh and, of course, more calories burned,” she adds.
2. Hit the hills—then fly
“Distinct changes in effort will cause your brain and body to keep guessing, and your metabolism burning fat far after the end of a traditional treadmill workout,” Winslow says. It’s why interval and metabolic resistance training helps runners become stronger, faster, and healthier. (Bodyweight and weight training should also be incorporated to strengthen small stabilizing muscles and your main movers to safeguard from overuse injury.) So, instead of simply jogging and charging into short bursts of speed, get in a segment of “hills” followed by a speed burst. You’ll challenge your aerobic capacity and tap into your lactate threshold.
When you’re planning your intervals, go for 1-2 minutes on medium-to-high speed (5-8) and an 8% hill grade; then, bring the incline down to 1% and jog for recovery for 1 minute. And when you’re sprinting, keep the incline at 1-2% and try to hit maximum effort (at least 9 and higher).
3. Drive your knees
It’s easy to forget about your form on the ‘mill. “Because the treadmill simply ‘carries’ you forward, it’s important to focus not just on turnover—speed—but increasing the amplitude or height of your stride,” Winslow says. It’s certainly not going to make your workout easier. Driving your knees up urges you to use more effort than picking your feet a measly 6″ from the belt—but you’ll cover more ground and you’ll do it faster. Engaging a powerful knee drive increases the height of your stride (think of the amplitude of a wave, Winslow says), which can increase the length of your stride. “The higher (within reason) your foot comes off the ground, and the more you drive your knees toward the midline of your body, the greater the force your foot will have to push against the ground and propel you forward,” Winslow adds. Think about getting your hamstrings closer to parallel to the ground when you attempt a more significant knee drive. The faster you run plus the more work you put in is a foolproof formula for a greater burn.
4. Pump your arms
If you ever ran track and field, or overheard a coach in snap-off swishy track pants shouting at runners to pump their arms, you know powerful arm movement is fundamental to running. Simply put, your arms dictate what your legs do. “Most treadmill runners fall into what they think are efficient patterns of motion, and end up running rather stiffly on the ‘mill,” Winslow says. “Instead, I suggest relaxing the shoulders, getting the arms moving, and maintaining the 90° angular momentum between bicep and forearm on both the right and left arm.” If you find yourself getting fatigued, pumping your arms and really driving your arms forward and back will force your legs to follow suit.
5. Perfect your form
No, this isn’t a revolutionary tip—or even the most exciting one at that—but proper running form can optimize where your efforts are going so you’re not wasting energy. If you’re clenching your jaw, balling your hands into fists, and hunching your shoulders over, you’re exerting energy in the wrong places. If you want to burn more calories, run more comfortably, and maximize performance follow Winslow’s checklist:
* Eyes on the horizon – Don’t stare at the console or look down at your feet.
* Neutral neck – You don’t want your chin too high or tucked into your chest.
* Supple shoulders – Relax your shoulders so they’re not hunched to your ears. You’ll prevent muscle spasms, knots, and fatigue, which can hinder you when you start logging more miles.
* Open chest – Keeping your shoulders relaxed and back will naturally open your chest, giving your diaphragm plenty of room to expand and contract—making it easier for you to regulate your breathing.
* Shoulders stacked over hips – When you’re running, you naturally assume a position in which you’re pitched forward—not a lot, but enough to where you’re almost tipping forward.
* Force application – You want your feet pushing against the treadmill, not just striking up and down like a jackhammer. Stay light on your feet, but imagine you’re pushing the belt backwards.