Surprise: Running on a treadmill is not only about putting one foot in front of the other. With a few tweaks to your form, habits, and plan, you can get so much more out of your indoor running workout. The best place to start? Avoiding these seven treadmill errors:
Mistake #1: Not Having a Plan
You get on, you push “start,” and you crank up the speed. You go until the timer hits your predetermined time (or your body hits the wall), and you stop.
Not only is this workout uninspiring, it’s definitely not pushing you to your potential. “You’ll always do more work with a plan—always!” says LA-based running coach David Siik, creator of the Precision Running treadmill program at Equinox and author of a forthcoming book about running.
“Find a one- to three-day-a-week routine, and make the commitment to put the work back in workout.” (Need some help? Check out how to implement an interval or “hilly” treadmill plan here.) That said, following the same plan all the time isn’t ideal, either.
“The body limits gains when it isn’t challenged in a variety of ways,” says Sean Fortune, an NYC running and track coach and founder of Central Park Coaching. “Running fitness is earned by training the body with steady-state runs, progression runs, intervals, long runs, easy short runs, hill sprint runs, fartleks, tempos…” Not only that, mixing it up helps protect you from injury, so make sure you’re regularly trying something new.
Mistake #2: Skipping the Warm-Up
“The biggest mistake I see by far is people going too fast too soon,” says Fortune. “They start off from a dead standstill at a pace that is unsustainable, and inevitably slow down to a shuffle or start walking shortly after they begin.”
Instead, start by walking, progressively increasing to a jog for the first five to 10 minutes. After the first mile, you can crank it up if your workout calls for it. Not only will you not burn out this way, it’s safer for your body. On a treadmill, “you can still pull something even though you are on a softer surface than the road,” says Debbie Blair, running coach and board member of the Greater Long Island Running Club. The same goes for a cool-down—ease back out with five minutes of slower jogging or walking at the end.
Mistake #3: Ignoring the Incline
A gentle reminder: Treadmills have two variables—speed and incline. Too often, people just leave the incline at zero percent. Thing is, when you run in place indoors, you don’t get the wind resistance or varied terrain of an outdoor run. To better approximate the challenge, do even your steady-state treadmill runs at a one- to two-percent incline. And when designing your workouts, don’t forget to mix up the incline as well as the speed. Steeper work engages more of the glutes and hamstrings—and who doesn’t want a better butt?
Mistake #4: Holding On
Grasping the sides (especially for dear life) is bad news for so many reasons. First of all, you’re messing up your posture and your gait.
You’re also taking some of your bodyweight off your legs and not swinging your arms—effectively reducing your calorie burn. If you’re grasping because can’t keep up, slow down or reduce the incline. And once you are swinging, make sure you’re swinging correctly—your arm drive is almost as important as what you do with your legs.
“Using a small and swaying arm drive can cause you to rotate, and can eventually lead to all kinds of problems,” says Siik. Instead, engage the muscles in your shoulders and arms to keep your arms parallel to your legs, never letting your hands cross your midline, or driving them so hard that your hands end up at the top of your head. Get it right and you’ll reap major benefits: “A powerful leg and arm drive creates a great force that meets across your abdominals, giving you an incredible core workout—and a speedy path to a flat, tight stomach!” says Siik.
Mistake #5: Overthinking Your Stride
When it comes to your legs, we have some good news: Your body will generally figure this out on its own, without you overthinking it. However, sometimes people do over-anticipate a sprint, which can lead to too-large strides. “Be careful you’re never reaching forward with your legs,” says Siik. “It will cause your bodyweight to land in front of you, which is not so good for the knees.” Also, when running on an incline, shorten your stride and increase your turnover—a.k.a., how fast you move your legs—to more efficiently conquer the “hill.”
Mistake #6: Not Using the Whole Belt
The tendency to run right up against the rail is normal. After all, when that belt is moving at a pretty good clip, you don’t want to fly off the end. “But running so close to the front of the treadmill can confine your legs and arms from running with their natural free range of motion,” says Siik. So focus on utilizing the whole length, especially during a sprint when your stride opens up.
Mistake #7: Over-Controlling Your Breathing
Like your legs, your lungs are pretty freakin’ good at their job. “Your body is far smarter than you give it credit for, and it will work to take in all the air it needs, instinctively,” says Siik. “I see people all the time working on breathing exercise, trying to keep their breath under control when doing hard treadmill work. Stop!” That said, don’t let the “panic” of a sprint send your breathing too shallow.
To paraphrase those ubiquitous inspirational signs, stay calm and run on. Then, during the recoveries, slow your breathing with big inhales in through your nose and exhales out of your mouth.