Mastering the ‘mill: How to Make the Treadmill Work for You (Part 1)
|May 26, 2010||Posted by Lauren under Running|
The weather in New England is crazy. The beginning of May was cold and miserable, and now we’re having a sudden heat wave. Although I’m very happy that things are finally warming up, the sudden change in temperature has been a bit of a shock to my system on runs. Up until recently, my body has been used to running in cool cloudy weather. I haven’t had time to adjust to running in the heat.
So with today’s temperature smashing the old record high, I sought refuge in the air conditioned gym, spending a little quality time with many runners’ worst nightmare: the treadmill.
A recent Runner’s World poll asked readers what type of workout they find the hardest to complete: treadmill runs, core workouts, speedwork, long runs, or tempo runs. Can you guess what they said?
Running on the treadmill was the clear winner, with 41% of respondents ranking it as the hardest. This was significantly more than those who said core workouts (19%) or speedwork (17%).
I find this somewhat surprising. Yes, I know…the treadmill can be incredibly boring. You run for miles and miles on a crazy machine, yet don’t get anywhere. Personally, I would much rather run outside than be stuck in a gym. But I really think that us runners shouldn’t fear the “dreadmill” so much! When viewed properly, this machine can be an invaluable tool that can actually help improve your running.
So next time you find yourself stuck inside on the ‘mill, embrace it. Use the time to improve one (or all!) of the following things: your form, your speed, and your mental endurance.
Making the Treadmill Work for You
1.) Fix that form
The very first thing you should do when you get on a treadmill is to evaluate your running form. Having the proper form is important not only because of how it looks, but also because of the improvements it can make in your overall speed. Since you don’t have to pay close attention to your surroundings, treadmill runs are the perfect opportunity to work out any problems.
When I first started running, my form was awful – my elbows stuck out, my shoulders rode high, I had a very short stride, and duck-toes like you wouldn’t believe. Here are the tricks I used on the treadmill to change how I was running:
- Watch yourself in the mirror (or the TV/window for those of you who don’t have mirrors): At my gym, we have TVs attached to every machine. I often look into them to evaluate how I’m running. I focus on keeping my face relaxed, my shoulders down, and my arms low (your hands should be at about hip level). Periodically, I look back at myself to check my progress (especially when I’m getting tired).
- Look at those feet! Getting my toes to point forward when I ran instead of out was hard work. It took a lot of concentration to get to a point where this happened naturally. The treadmill helped me make the change, since I could pay more attention to the ground.
- Gradually increase your speed. To make my stride longer, I would start off running really slow and then gradually increase the speed by 0.1 mph. This subtle change helped me focus on keeping my leg turnover steady while lengthening my stride to keep up with the faster pace.
2.) Feel the need for speed
I will focus on this more in a future post, but the treadmill can help you become a faster runner because you can control your pace. Switch up your speed by:
- Running intervals (like these examples from Runner’s World)
- Completing a run at a goal pace that’s faster than your normal average pace
- Running negative splits (completing the second half of the run faster than the first half)
- Or going all out to work on your sprint
When I was in high school and trying to improve my mile time, I would go down to the basement, warm up and then pump the treadmill up to my goal pace, trying to hold it there for an entire mile. Even when I didn’t quite make it, the workout wasn’t a waste. Every time I practiced running at that speed, my body gained valuable experience about what it felt like to run that fast.
And as an added bonus, mixing up a run with intervals can make the time go by faster and help beat treadmill boredom.
3.) Get inside your own head
The mental game is by far the hardest part about running on the treadmill. The monotony of the run, the hot smelly gym…these things make it harder not to focus on how tired you are. But if you can get inside your own head and learn to improve your focus, your runs will become a lot easier and you’ll be able to stay on the treadmill for longer than you thought possible. Plus, this improved mental strength will be an advantage when it comes to completing those tough runs or races outside.
Some tips to improve your mental strength and stay focused during a run:
- Cover the screen. I always cover the screen of my treadmill with a towel so that I stop focusing on how slow my tiny virtual dot is moving around the track, and start focusing on enjoying my run.
- Daydream. Look ahead of you at a spot on the wall (or the towel) and let your eyes glaze over while your mind takes you to another place. You don’t have to pay attention to where you’re going. Sometimes I even close my eyes for a few seconds to really help myself zone out (just be careful not to fall off!).
- Watch yourself run. I know it sounds a bit vain, but staring at yourself running can really help you zone out. As I mentioned above, I often look into the TV screens to see how I’m doing. If I focus on looking strong, the girl I see looking back at me with a determined look on her face gives me motivation to keep going
- Count songs, not seconds. With my screen covered, I don’t have the timer to tell me how long I’ve been running. Instead I focus on how many songs I’ve listened to and try to get excited about the song that is coming up next on my playlist.
- (and then) Don’t let yourself look at the screen until a certain number of songs have passed. This is a big one for me. I always play little games with myself, especially when I’m feeling tired and want to stop. I usually have a set number of songs I want to run through that corresponds to how many miles I want to run (I estimate 1 song = 1/2 mile…usually an underestimate, but it’s close enough). This helps me zone out and focus on the music instead of how tired I’m feeling. And when the urge to look at how far I’ve gone (or stop) becomes almost overwhelming, I tell myself that I can look after just one more song.
When you focus on using the treadmill as a tool (and not viewing it as a punishment), your treadmill runs will become more enjoyable. And your running will improve as well!
I plan to continue this little mini-series next week, when I’ll share my favorite treadmill workout with you. This is how I run on one 90% of the time, and it’s a great approach to the ‘mill that improves both your speed and your mental focus…and helps the time go by faster. I know the suspense is probably killing you, but hopefully you can wait for that, along with a few more tips on how to be a master of the ‘mill.
And finally – an announcement: on Friday, I’m going to share the official rules and regs of the Shape Up Summer Challenge! Entry is going to be on a rolling basis, and there will be a couple of different ways to participate (along with a couple of different prizes!), so if you haven’t checked out The Core yet, now’s your chance!
Any tips you have on how to master the ‘mill? And what’s the longest you’ve ever run on one? While I typically don’t do more than 7 or 8 miles on the treadmill, my record is 15 — a run I did last winter when the weather was awful.
For another positive view on treadmill running, check out Kelly’s post here!