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Benefits of Treadmill Workouts

When it comes to creating an effective and maintainable exercise routine at home, it’s important to remember that not all equipment is created equal, and you’ll need to be sure that anything you do buy is tailored towards your own goals and style of fitness.

For example, although there’s no shortage of dumbbell workouts available, for the most part these aren’t affected by the type of dumbbell you buy.

In contrast, which treadmill you buy or decide to use at your local gym can have a significant impact on not just the variety of workout programs available, but also your motivation to continue running.

By adding more variation to your treadmill workouts, not only is your interest in running going to be piqued by the different types of program on offer, but you’re also going to be less likely to slip into a pattern of muscle adaptation.

But why is muscle adaptation a bad thing?

In most aspects of our life, the fact that our body can adapt to environments and the stresses we place it under is extremely beneficial. For example, if you’ve worked in a fairly sedentary job for a number of years, then switch to something more active, you may find it challenging to complete all required tasks. But after a while, in conjunction with a healthy diet, you’ll start to feel stronger and fitter, performing the same tasks quicker and easier than when you started.

With the goal of treadmill workouts usually being to tone up or lose weight, you’re not going to want your body to adapt to a single program for too long. If this happens, the weight loss and fitness gains you saw at the beginning won’t just slow down, they may stop completely.

While running outdoors is certainly an option, it tends to be quite location dependent. This means you may find it easy to create a local running route that maintains flat terrain for miles at a time, but difficult to find any hills to run up if you want to increase the intensity.

This is where treadmills can be hugely beneficial to your results, and is one of the reasons they’re constantly receiving the most reviews on ecommerce sites, and often the most popular cardiovascular machine in the gym.

So what are the different types of treadmill workout available, and how can they help you reach your fitness goals?

Walking Workouts

These are ideal for anyone that has a lot of weight to lose, or has a low level of mobility. If you are exclusively looking at walking workouts as the main source of exercise for the foreseeable future, then there a number of considerations to make when choosing a treadmill.

Firstly, the size of the running area. This is one of the main factors that influences the price of a new machine, and treadmills with a running area of 56 inches or longer frequently retail for upwards of $3000.

Machines at that price point also tend to offer a wide array of incline and speed options, which are unlikely to be of much interest if you’re sticking to walking (6 – 9 kmh should be sufficient in terms of belt speed options).

30 minutes walking, 5 times per week is an effective treadmill workout
30 minutes walking each day has numerous health benefits

Secondly, you’re going to want to think about the best way to integrate a regular fitness routine into your daily schedule. For many people, walking workouts tend to have a longer duration than the 20 minute HIIT or Tabata workouts we’re going to take a look at later. In this case, you’re certainly going to want something that can hold your attention.

There are some higher priced machines specialize in virtual running routes being displayed on a full colour screen, or even e-book readers and internet access. But it’s rare to find such feature on a treadmill designed specifically for walking, particularly if you’re on a budget.

In this instance, a treadmill desk would certainly be worth considering. The lower running belt speeds shouldn’t interfere with any typing or work that you want to get done, and the fact that you have a desk means you can setup a TV or computer screen to watch your favourite movies while you walk.

Running Workouts

One of the great benefits of modern treadmill designs is that the companies that make them often invest a great deal of thought into the construction of the running deck.

This means an increase in the number of models now available that offer cushioned or suspension running decks. Although you may not feel much of the benefit when walking, once you start running it becomes noticeable how much less impact there is on your knees and ankles compared to running on the road.

Certain designs have even considered the distribution and density of these cushioning areas in the running deck, with a goal to create a more solid section towards the rear of the running area, and more cushioned area towards the front.

Modern treadmills have precision designed cushioning systems, reducing the risk of injury compared to outdoor running
Modern treadmills have precision designed cushioning systems, reducing the impact of your footfall compared to running outdoors

The benefits of such designs are two-fold. Not only do you have a more cushioned surface to reduce the impact when your foot comes down on the belt, but you also have a firm area that allows the most efficient transfer of power when you push off the belt and drive each leg forward.

If running is going to play an integral role in your fitness routine, taking the time to find out more about the type of cushioning system and design of the running deck can really help to improve your results.

With the two main categories of treadmill workouts now covered (walking and running), we’ll next take a quick look at how you can benefit from some of the preset and customizable workout programs that are often stored in the display consoles.

Interval Workouts

The topic of interval training itself is vast, and certainly deserves more detail than we’re able to cover here. But for the purpose of treadmill workouts, there are a few important benefits we quickly wanted to mention.

Despite the fact that there are hundreds of different unique combinations of time patterns and running speeds, it’s still possible to narrow these down to 3 main factors:

  • 1. Running speed during sprint phase
  • 2. Running speed during recovery phase
  • 3. Duration spent at each phase

Due to the fact that interval training is linked so closely to your own personal fitness level and ability, it’s best not to perform true interval training as part of a fixed plan in a group.

Some studies suggest that there is a gender-specific response to the long-term physiological effects that supramaximal sprint training (intervals) has on your V02 max.

These suggest that although both groups demonstrated that interval training was an effective way to improve cardiovascular fitness, frequency and distance are most important for females, while intensity holds greater importance for males.

Optimal rest and sprint periods will also vary by age and gender. This is why it’s a good idea to experiment with the preset interval program that may come with the treadmill, then make adjustments and setup your own unique custom program to see the best results.

Hill Climb Workouts

Although some of the steepest inclines will invariably be found on a stepper machine, it’s difficult to build up the same kind of natural running pace compared to a treadmill.

Most commercial gym machines will have a power incline feature already fitted, which essentially means you can control the angle of the running deck from buttons on the console or hand rails.

Light commercial models and machines designed for use at home will also have this feature, but in some cases the incline can only be adjusted manually. This means stopping your run, stepping off the running belt, and lifting the deck into the desired height setting. Obviously this isn’t ideal, and the good thing is that you can usually find treadmills with a power incline for as little as $300.

The reason hill climb and even cross country treadmill workout programs are so beneficial is because they combine endurance with lower body strength training to a much greater degree than running on a flat surface.

By strengthening the tendons and ligaments around your knee and ankle joints, this helps to reduce the risk of injury. You also activate more of your core muscles, as well as your hip flexors, which can lead to improvements in your balance and overall running posture.

Combining this type of hill climb workout with a basic weight training routine that incorporates exercises such as squats and lunges can convert to impressive gains in your running stride.

Modern treadmills can recreate a wide range of outdoor running terrains via their incline and speed settings
Modern treadmills can recreate a wide range of outdoor running terrains via their incline and speed settings

In a study carried out at the University of New Hampshire, a group of experienced female distance runners added upper and lower body strength workouts similar to these to their regular running routine.

A separate ‘control group’ who avoided resistance training was also monitored across the same 10 week period. When comparisons were made between the running performance of each group, researchers found that the runners who implemented the strength workouts experienced a 4 percent increase in running economy.

Another study carried out by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden found that adding hill climb workouts to the routine of marathon runners improved running economy by 3 percent over the course of a 12 week period.

Although there’s likely to be a certain degree of overlap, simply by adding a couple of strength workouts and two hill climb runs each week at a high incline on the treadmill could lead to gains of 7 percent or more in your running economy.

However, there is one factor that treadmills can’t recreate to the same degree as outdoor running, and that’s the decline of a hill.

While some treadmills offer a running deck decline angle of around 3 percent, there are studies that have found the optimal decline in order for runners to maximize acute sprinting velocity and acceleration was actually 5.8 percent.

Fat Burning Workouts

If you were to read through many of the user manuals for modern treadmills, you would find that one of the most frequently mentioned preset workout programs is ‘fat burning’.

The main concept behind this program is to keep your pulse at a constant level, which is usually around 70% of your maximum heart rate. One of the reasons this lower intensity level has been chosen is because fat burning workouts require a longer duration.

Many machines will offer heart rate tracking via a telemetry chest strap, or a pair of sensors on the hand rails. Based on your current level, the treadmill will then automatically adjust the speed, incline, or combination of the two, to make sure your heart rate stays within your chosen range.

But maintaining a 70% maximum heart rate level throughout your running workout also has other health benefits.

For example, the American Diabetes Association recommends that 150 minutes per week of what it classes as ‘moderate-intensity physical activity’ (50 – 70% of maximum heart rate) should be performed each week, spread across at least 3 days.

This has been found to increase sensitivity to insulin, lower blood pressure, decrease body fat, and improve cholesterol levels. As well as being beneficial to people who already have type 2 diabetes, this level of regular exercise has also been found to prevent the onset in high-risk individuals.

However, as we mentioned earlier, sticking to the same routine for extended periods is not advised, and these lower intensity runs should also be mixed with interval workouts on a regular basis if you want to experience the best results.

Custom Workouts

One of the greatest benefits to using a treadmill for your running or walking workouts is their versatility. Some models have over 100 preset workout program options available from the second you step on the running belt, while others allow you to download training programs created by fitness instructors from an online resource.

But even with these hundreds of options, it’s impossible to plan for every person’s individual style of training. This is why custom workouts have proven to be so popular.

Not only do they allow you to make important changes to some of the preset programs so that they better suit your body type and goal, but you can also create programs on the latest training routines, such as those based on the Tabata Protocol.

A variation on the better known ‘Interval’ style of training, Tabata Workouts on a treadmill are usually very short, but very effective.

Tabata was first studied by Dr. Izumi Tabata in 1996, and is based around sprinting for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This is repeated 8 times, for a total workout duration of just 4 minutes. These can then be performed in cycles, with a few minutes rest between each cycle.

These are usually performed on studio style bikes or Airdyne cycles due to the short work periods making it difficult for low powered treadmill belts to adjust to the different speeds quickly enough, but are still possible on high-end machines.

Many treadmills now allow custom designed workouts to be programmed in via the console
Many treadmills now allow custom designed workouts to be programmed in via the console

So what are the benefits from this extreme style of interval training?

To find out, the American Council on Exercise enlisted John Porcari, Ph.D. – head of the Clinical Exercise Physiology Program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.

Porcari led a team of researchers in creating a 20-minute Tabata Protocol workout plan, consisting of various calisthenics exercises. A group of already very fit male and female volunteers, aged 20 to 47 were then asked to perform the workout they created.

The results were that the Tabata workouts met or exceeded established industry guidelines for improving cardio fitness and modifying body composition.

Although it’s difficult to glimpse into the future and see what it holds for cardiovascular workouts, many light commercial and commercial treadmills still seem to be well prepared for the latest fitness trends and effective routines.

Tracking your progress

One final benefit we wanted to mention for treadmill workouts is the ability to track your progress.

Although this is very dependent on which particular model you use, a select few companies are now offering a suite of online fitness tools that can communicate with the console on your treadmill.

This means you can either sync the data from your current workout, or transfer it via a USB device, and analyse a history of your performance. Not only does this allow you to see how much you’ve improved, but also pinpoint specific workouts that proved most effective.

Some good examples of this technology in action can be found through SchwinnConnect, Precor’s Preva app, and iFit.

Conclusion

If you’re contemplating setting up your own gym at home, depending on the model, a treadmill probably offers a wider range of exercise options than almost any other piece of cardio equipment (possible exception for the EFX ellipticals).

Even if you only have limited space, there are now designs that can fold to slide under your bed, fold nearly vertical to save on floor space, and even combine with a desk to allow you to exercise whilst you get your work done.

Despite the ease with which this allows you to integrate the treadmill workout into your daily routine, there’s still a number of important health benefits that this level of regular exercise can bring when combined with a calorie controlled diet.

In summary, the following list is just some of the health benefits that you can expect to see when you make treadmill workouts a part of your regular fitness routine:

  • Helps to strengthen bones and joints
  • Strengthens and builds muscles in your lower body
  • Improves cardiovascular fitness
  • Wide variety of intensity levels enables people of all weights and abilities to burn calories
  • Helps you to maintain a healthy weight
  • Lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Boosts mental function
  • Relieves stress
  • Increases stamina
  • Significantly lowers your risk of dying prematurely