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How to Get the Most Out of Your Treadmill Cardio Session

Jun 12, 2019

There's a reason why almost every single gym has a treadmill in it. The treadmill is a staple piece of fitness equipment that is incredibly worthy of your time for a good cardiovascular exercise session.

To find out how best to use this popular modality, we spoke to Chris Howard, personal trainer and owner of Fitness Together Waxhaw in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. Although Howard specializes in powerlifting and is a former collegiate football player (he’s also a yoga enthusiast), he never skips his weekly treadmill session in his own workouts and always advises his clients to use the treadmill as well.

What do you like about the treadmill?

First of all, running and walking on a treadmill is a lot more cushioned than running outdoors or on trails, so it can be safer and a lot more gentle on the joints.

In addition to that, I like how the treadmill is so measured. When you use it, you know exactly how fast you are going, and you can push yourself just a little bit more by adding even .2 mph of speed to your run. This is very helpful for challenging yourself in a specific way.

What are some tips for doing cardio on the treadmill?

I always advise that people meet with a personal trainer to find out their target heart-rate before jumping on the treadmill for a cardio session because the goal of every treadmill session should be to get your heart-rate into the right training zone for a certain amount of time.

Once you know your target heart-rate zone, put on your heart rate monitor and begin with the pattern of 30 seconds of walking, followed by 30 seconds of running, then you can repeat this interval until you are comfortable increasing the running interval and decreasing the walking interval.

However, one of the best uses of the treadmill doesn’t include any running at all — it’s incline walking. In fact, the incline is one of my favorite uses of the treadmill, because incline walking can truly get your heart-rate up in an efficient way at a slower pace.

What are some important treadmill form tips?

First and foremost, the position of the body on the treadmill is everything. You want to make sure you are looking straight forward, not down or to the side, so you aren’t putting too much impact on the neck. (We’ve even had to move some TVs in our studio to ensure that clients keep their eyes in the right place.) Then, make sure your shoulders are directly over your hips.

Second of all, most people need to increase their stride length when running so the knee lines up correctly over the toe. If your stride is too short with the knee past the toe, you’ll put excess pressure on the knee joint.

Moving on, you want to work on your foot strike. When you jog or run, your heel should hit just slightly before your toe, while keeping the heel disengaged (don’t flex your foot, just keep the natural flexion as the heel hits).

Finally, one of the most overlooked parts of getting the best workout you can on the treadmill is breathing. In through the nose and out through the mouth is the ideal way to take in energy and expel it.

What are some essential treadmill safety tips?

The stop button is incredibly important and everyone should identify where that button is before beginning a treadmill workout. You can use this button at any time to halt the treadmill. However, once you are more advanced, you should be able to “run down” your sprints by gradually decreasing the speed using the speed button.

Next up, it’s okay to begin your treadmill workouts by holding on to the handrails to get comfortable, but once you are more confident, you can swing your arms for a bigger effort and calorie burn.

Finally, never ever try to jump on or off a moving treadmill. Always begin and end your session from the stopped position.

How often should you do a treadmill cardio session?

I advise clients to do at least one session a week, with a maximum of three times per week.

Each session should be between 15-20 minutes to start, and on steady state cardio days, you can increase that time to 20-30 minutes. You’ll also want to diversify by doing cardio in other ways throughout the week.

20-minute intermediate treadmill workout

If you only have 20 minutes to get in your cardio session, here’s what Howard suggests you do to get the most out of your time …

  • 1-3 minutes: Walk for 30 seconds, run for 30 seconds, repeat 3 times (suggested speeds, 4.0 mph for walking and 7.5 mph for running)

  • 4-6 minutes: Walking recovery (suggested speed 3.5 mph)

  • 7-17 minutes: Steady state running in your target heart-rate zone (suggested speed 6.5 mph)

  • 18-20 minutes: Incline walk while swinging your arms to reach maximum target heart-rate zone (suggested speed 4.0 mph, 5-8 percent incline)

  • Slowly walk down the incline, reduce the speed and push stop

When it comes to the treadmill, you have to try a lot of different methods to see what works best for you,” says Howard. “You may never want to jog for 30 minutes, so try incline walking or intervals. Find the method you like best and keep working at it and challenging yourself.”

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