Treadmill running at Bannatyne’s Health Club

If you don’t want to run outside, a treadmill can provide a useful alternative

Ingrid Kristensen used one in the build up to her 1985 marathon world record; Liz McColgan used to stare at a blue dot on the wall for two hours using hers; and millions of people use them in gyms around the country every day. What are we talking about? Treadmills of course.

Many running purists turn their noses up at treadmill running, citing the benefits of exercising in the great outdoors as the main added benefit of running.

But they’re missing a trick. There are certainly no disadvantages of training on a treadmill – a calorie burned is the same during any activity. But, while the physiological benefits might be the same, treadmill running has added benefits that its outdoor equivalent can’t offer.

Great for beginners

For a start, treadmill running is ideal for beginners. It’s easy to feel a bit intimidated if you’re new to the sport or by talking to more experienced runners (if there’s one thing that runners love to do it’s talk about how much training they’re doing!).

Running on a treadmill gives beginners a great place to start where they can build confidence. Anyone new to the sport will start with a mixture of walking and running: a treadmill is ideal for this as the speed can be easily adjusted to match the effort. Treadmills are also used in ‘safe’ environments, which for women new to running can be an excellent motivator. Dark nights and lousy weather are not great inspiration, without having to worry about ‘unsavoury’ elements.

Today’s treadmills allow you to jog, run, sprint, climb hills, or even resistance train by easily and accurately varying grade and speed. Many come with pre-programmed training schedules or with add-ons that enable you to customise your workouts. Treadmill workouts have an unlimited number of possible combinations of speed, distance and incline. You are able to design a run that will provide you with the exact training that you desire – in short, they are extremely flexible.

Another advantage of treadmills is that they are more forgiving then the road as they absorb shock better and are less likely to cause impact injuries than road running. This will help you to run as efficiently as possible, and can be a great help to someone coming back from any injury or a beginner starting out in the sport.

And, since running on the treadmill is usually a solitary activity, it helps build self-motivation and commitment. Running and maintaining your pace on the treadmill builds a mental “toughness” that can help you in your races and outside training runs.

However, the most common criticism about treadmills is that runners find them boring (running in one spot with no change in scenery is not particularly stimulating).

Running on a treadmill without these external stimuli may build mental toughness, but it can also cause people to shorten sessions or avoid treadmills altogether (it can also get quite hot: try using a treadmill after someone’s pushed themselves to the limit and you’ll see what I mean). One way to keep your treadmill running fresh is to spice up your workouts so that you’re not just running at one speed for a given length of time.

Some examples are:

Fartlek – or mixed interval running – is a great idea for indoor workouts as it really helps break up the monotony and helps get the person’s mind off the fact that they aren’t actually moving anywhere.

Tempo runs – where you warm up for five minutes and then run at a speed where talking is uncomfortable (not that there will be anyone to talk to!) for 15-20 minutes

Hills – many treadmills come equipped with an incline function, enabling you to mimic the effects of running up a hill. Do some short sharp repetitions and feel your legs burn!

Interval sessions – the classic runner’s tool, but easily controlled on a treadmill. Choose your speed and then run to a set time or distance. This is great for building speed endurance – and should see you run faster back on terra firma.

LSD (or long, slow, distance) – great for building stamina (mental as well as physical) but can be prone to inducing boredom. Stick on your MP3 player and hum while you run

Safety first

Treadmill training is a safe activity but a brief lapse in concentration can cause a mishap, so follow the treadmill safety checklist below before you begin:

Emergency stop. Many models of treadmill have a safety cord which you can clip onto your clothing. The opposite end of the cord is attached to the emergency stop button and will shut down the machine if you move too far away from the front. Simply clip it onto your clothing at the start of your session.

Stop and start. Never get on or off a treadmill when the belt is moving. Always wait for the belt to come to a halt before dismounting and similarly, never jump onto a moving treadmill – unless you want to come flying off the back.

Keep in control of your exercise. For a smooth running action, run in the middle of the belt, rather than bunched up at the front by the control console. However, always make sure that you can reach the controls without difficulty.

Keep your exercise focus. Walking, jogging and running are all great ways to unwind but unlike training outdoors, you still need to maintain your concentration so that you don’t slip. If you enjoy listening to your favourite sounds while you train, make sure you don’t get lost in the music!

Know your running pace. Speed sessions on a treadmill can be very effective but make sure that the speed you key in is within your capabilities for the duration of your session, so that you don’t risk coming off the back.

Other treadmill tips

Use a heart rate monitor. Many treadmills allow you to sync your HRM with the treadmill itself, giving you heart-rate readings on the display panel. By using one you can eliminate “junk training” and get fitter faster. The monitor allows you to maximise your efforts by guiding your intensity so that you work out in the zone that you want to be in, helping you get results faster.

Drink. Be sure to hydrate lots while working out on a treadmill. You can lose even more water running on a treadmill then you would if you were running outside. This is because of the lack of air resistance to help to keep you cool. Just a 1% loss in water can lead to a noticeable decline in performance.

Towel off. Some treadmills have a small fan in their display unit, but even with this, you’ll get hot. Take a towel so that you remove excess sweat and prevent it dripping all over your unit.

In association with Bannatyne’s Health Club

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