5 Ways to Burn More Calories During Your Treadmill Workouts

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Challenge yourself with these expert tips to shake up your regular treadmill routine.
Image Credit: Dani_Fotografo/iStock/GettyImages

When you're busy — or just avoiding bad weather — your trusty treadmill workout is always there to help you get a sweat in, quick. But are you truly maximizing your time on the treadmill, or just sticking with the same lackluster settings?

With a few tweaks, you can reap more benefits and squeeze more calories out of your treadmill sessions. Here's how.

1. Crank Up the Incline

If you typically run on flat ground, start mixing in some intervals of incline running. "With incline running, you are recruiting more muscles than you would running without an incline, which increases calorie burn and requires more oxygen," Meg Takacs, a running coach and Performix House trainer in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

Adding an incline also emphasizes different muscle groups than running on flat ground, says Nicholas Hilton, running coach and manager of Run Flagstaff, a specialty running store in Flagstaff, Arizona.

For example, a July 2013 study in PLoS ONE found that running at a 7 percent incline increases glute activation by 83 percent, and biceps femoris (a hamstring muscle) activation by 6.16 percent. And a January 2012 study in Gait and Posture suggests that walking at an incline employs the hip, glute, thigh, calf and ankle muscles more than walking on flat road does.

Try it: Walk or jog for 10 minutes on flat ground to warm up. Then, crank up the incline to 7 percent, Hilton says, and walk, jog, or sprint for 20 seconds. Walk or jog for one minute at 0 to 2 percent incline to recover. Repeat for a total of five rounds and end with a 10-minute cooldown walk or jog.

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2. Do Intervals

Alternating segments of fast running with a recovery walk or jog — also known as interval training — can help you burn more calories than running that same amount of time at a steady pace.

Not only does your body have to use more oxygen and activate more muscles, but interval training will keep your heart rate going up and down throughout the workout, which eats up more energy (read: calories) than maintaining a steady heart rate, Takacs explains.

Your body burns more calories after a speed (or hill) session, too, thanks to a physiological effect known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Hard exercise, like sprinting or running hills, creates micro-tears in your muscles and uses up lots of fuel, mostly in the form of glycogen and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Once you stop working out, your body uses oxygen to help you recover, which keeps you burning more calories for longer periods of time.

In fact, an April 2019 review in the BMJ suggests that interval training leads to greater body fat loss and total absolute fat mass reduction than moderate-intensity continuous exercise.

Try it: Start with a 10-minute warm-up walk or jog. Then, do two sets of the following with a two-minute walk or jog in between sets:

  • 2 minutes at a hard pace (think eight or nine on a scale of one to 10)
  • 1-minute recovery walk or jog
  • 1 minute hard
  • 1-minute recovery walk or jog
  • 30 seconds hard

End with a 10-minute cooldown walk or jog. "If you want more of a challenge, add another set or a three-minute hard run interval to each set," Hilton says.

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3. Incorporate Body-Weight Drills

Treadmills aren't just for walking and running; try incorporating body-weight drills and exercises like walking lunges and high knees into your workout.

"Adding drills or exercises to your treadmill workout will add variety and burn some extra calories," says Nicole Gainacopulos, a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and a running coach in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Try it: Stay safe by pausing the treadmill or reducing your speed to a manageable pace before trying any of the drills below. Once you get the hang of things, you can increase the speed and/or incline to make the exercises harder.

Gainacopulos suggests alternating between one minute of walking or running and one minute of each movement below. Repeat once or twice, depending on your fitness level and the time you have available. Make sure to walk or jog for five to 10 minutes as a warm-up and a cooldown.

Move 1: Walking Lunges

  1. While the belt is moving, step forward with one foot and bend your knees until your front and back legs make 90-degree angles.
  2. Push off of your front foot to straighten both legs and step the opposite foot forward.
  3. Continue alternating legs for time, making sure to keep pace with the treadmill. You can clasp your hands together in front of you or hold onto the handrails for balance if needed.

Move 2: Butt Kicks

  1. Reduce the treadmill speed.
  2. Kick one heel toward your butt, and as soon as your foot returns to the belt, kick the opposite heel toward your butt.
  3. Continue alternating for time.

Move 3: Side Shuffles

  1. Pause the treadmill and face sideways on the belt. Bend your knees slightly and start the treadmill.
  2. Take quick steps to the side, landing softly on the balls of your feet.
  3. Switch sides midway through or during your next interval.

Move 4: High Knees

  1. Reduce the treadmill speed.
  2. Quickly drive one knee high toward your chest. As soon as you return your foot to the belt, immediately drive the opposite knee high toward your chest.
  3. Continue alternating knees for time.

Move 5: ‘Deadmill’ Pushes

  1. Pause the treadmill.
  2. While holding on to the handlebars, try to move the belt with your legs.
  3. Alternate one minute of walking and one minute running or sprinting.

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4. Progress Your Pace

If you can comfortably run four miles in 34 minutes, you can challenge your body — and increase calories burned — by steadily picking up your pace throughout the whole run, Takacs says. Gradually increasing your pace during a run requires more oxygen and muscle activation, which helps you burn more calories.

If you weigh 155 pounds, for example, you'll burn roughly 298 calories from a 30-minute run at five miles per hour (mph) — but if you bump up your pace to six mph, you can torch 372 calories in the same amount of time, according to estimates from Harvard Health Publishing.

Try it: The next time you want to challenge yourself, set a time goal for a given distance, Takacs says. For example, aim to run four miles in 30 minutes. Start the workout at a comfortable pace and gradually pick up the speed as you go, ending at a maximum effort pace.

5. Strength Train on the Treadmill

Mixing strength training into your treadmill workout adds variety, and may help increase your calorie burn, Gainacopulos says.

Adding some strength training into your cardio routine offers long-term benefits, too, namely by helping you build muscle over time. And more muscle means greater calorie burn: Because muscles are metabolically active, they burn calories even when your body is at rest, Takacs says.

Are you on track to achieve your fitness goals? Download the MyPlate app to keep tabs on the number of calories you burn during your workouts and stay motivated.

Resistance bands are convenient strength-training tools that you can keep right on the treadmill. The following resistance band exercises can be performed on the machine (make sure to hit pause) in between cardio bouts. We recommend using a long resistance band with handles.

Try it: Gainacopulos suggests picking three exercises below to combine into a circuit. First, walk or run for five minutes, and then do 15 reps of each chosen exercise, one right after the other. Rest one minute, then repeat the entire walk/run and strength circuit two more times, adding rounds as your fitness improves. Walk or jog for 10 minutes to cool down.

Move 1: Biceps Curl

  1. Step one or both feet on the center of the resistance band, and with your arms by your sides, hold one end of the band in each hand, palms facing forward.
  2. Bending at the elbows, curl the handles of the band toward your shoulders by flexing your biceps.
  3. Squeeze your biceps at the top before lowering your hands to the sides with control.

Move 2: Overhead Triceps Extension

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and step one foot back onto the center of the resistance band. Grip one end of the band with each hand and bring the handles behind your neck.
  2. Keeping your arms close to your head, push the band toward the ceiling until your arms are fully extended and you feel a squeeze in your triceps.
  3. Lower your hands down with control to the starting position.

Move 3: Chest Press

  1. Lie face-up on the treadmill belt or on a mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Loop the resistance band behind your upper back so the band is tucked under your armpits. Hold one end of the band in each hand by your chest.
  2. Keeping your shoulders back and down, press your hands above your chest until your arms are fully extended.
  3. Lower your hands down with control to the starting position.

Move 4: Overhead Press

  1. Step both feet on the center of the band with your hips right under your shoulders. Gripping one end of the band with each hand, bring your hands to shoulder height with your palms facing forward. Stand tall and tuck your pelvis in to tighten your core.
  2. Bracing your core, press the band overhead until your arms are fully extended, finishing with your biceps by your ears.

Move 5: Bent-Over Row

  1. Step both feet on the center of the resistance band and grip one end in each hand so there's tension in the band, arms extended. Keeping your back flat, hinge your torso forward to at least 45 degrees, or 90 degrees if you have the mobility. Anchor your shoulders back and down.
  2. Keeping your shoulders square, pull the ends of the band by your ribcage toward your hips, keeping your elbows close to your body. As you pull the ends, focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
  3. Lower your hands with control to the starting position.

Tip

Remember to balance your workouts: Hard workouts (like those above) break down more muscle tissue than easy or moderate activity. In order to keep making progress and avoid injury, you have to give your body the chance to repair after a tough treadmill session. “It’s important to balance your high- and low-intensity days,” Takacs says.

Limit your hard workouts to two to three times per week, and give yourself at least one day of recovery in between the toughest ones. “I like to take rest days, or do slow runs after high-intensity days,” Takacs says.

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