This time of year can be a bit of a physical gray area when it comes to fitness (and that's OK!). But if you're looking for a way to keep moving in the cold, dark, hectic, unfocused days of winter, the treadmill — as boring as it may seem — might be calling your name.
"It's not always about having a specific goal in mind, but it's about falling back in love with your training," Rebecca Kennedy, Peloton strength and treadmill instructor, says about jumping into treadmill training in the depths of winter. "The winter, to me, is really a good time for building your strength and keeping your conditioning up."
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If you're someone who detests the treadmill, it may be helpful to think about the benefits it will have on any of your spring goals. Here, we break down how to best utilize this tried-and-true machine for your fitness goals on the horizon.
Treadmills We Love
Spring Goal: Hiking
While you're waiting for the ground to thaw to get up to elevation, the treadmill is a great place to start building power for spring hiking feats ahead.
"Walking on [an incline], you're not going to have the divots and the different ground or environment that you're going to be walking on trails, but at least you're getting the strength you need to implement it when you're out on the trails," Kennedy says. Walking on a 15 percent grade conditions essential lower leg muscles including your glutes, calves, hips and hamstrings.
Best Treadmill Function: Bump up the incline.
Go-To Workout: Tune into one of Kennedy's Peloton Hiking Bootcamp classes, HIIT-style classes that mix in power walking on various levels of incline instead of running, with key strength training moves that will get you hike-ready.
Spring Goal: Run a Marathon
For marathoners, early winter is often considered the off season, which is a great time to turn to the treadmill for pre-training conditioning. "When you're planning for a race in the spring, you'll have a plan, but right now, you get to have fun and kind of enjoy the training," Kennedy says. "Focus more on keeping your base level intact."
When training kicks into gear come January or February, the treadmill remains a great option for keeping your training consistent, despite the ever-changing winter weather.
Best Treadmill Function: Intervals and hills. "Whether you're a beginner or a more seasoned runner, that's going to keep up your strength and your power when you're ready to get back on the road," Kennedy says.
Go-To Workout: Alana Myers, CPT, certified personal trainer and American Council on Exercise (ACE) resource center supervisor, suggests this interval workout for building endurance:
- Warm up for 5 minutes at a comfortable pace.
- Then bump it up to a run for 10 minutes.
- Slow down to a jog for 2 minutes of recovery.
- Repeat that sequence of running and jogging three times total.
- Finish up with a 5-minute cooldown.
Spring Goal: Mountain Biking
While mountain bikers are more likely to be grinding away on an exercise bike right about now, dreaming about the singletracks of summer, they may be surprised to learn the treadmill has something to offer. Of course, the cardiovascular training is beneficial to the endurance needed for long days on the trail, but even more beneficial may be the core strength running offers.
"Your core is a huge component," Myers says. "Not just talking abdominals, but also talking about your back and your lumbar extensors." Having a strong core is beneficial for balance and stability on the bike.
Best Treadmill Function: Play around with sprints to build core strength and improve endurance. Sprint intervals, even performed at a low volume, can improve VO2 max, an indicator of cardiovascular fitness, according to a December 2013 meta-analysis published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.
Go-To Workout: Tr y this, adapted from this hill sprint workout from ACE certified trainer Elizabeth Andrews:
- Set the incline to 1.5 percent. Work your way up to a sprint and stay at that speed for 20 seconds.
- Step off and recover.
- Bump the incline to 10 percent and sprint for another 20 seconds. Step off and recover.
- Increase the incline to 15 percent and sprint for 20 seconds.
- As your fitness increases, see if you can run through the sequence two or three times.
Spring Goal: Join a Local Sports League
Have dreams of being the MVP of your barbecue volleyball, pickleball, kickball or softball league? Logging some miles on the treadmill is a great way to get conditioned for team sports. Starting the season with a base level of fitness will help protect you from early-season injuries. And in general, sports tend to be more fun when you're not struggling to keep up with your teammates.
Best Treadmill Function: Intervals — adjusting the speed or incline after a pre-determined amount of time (say 1 or 2 minutes) to something more challenging, before returning to the base level for a recovery — are useful in building endurance and give you the flexibility to tailor a workout to your current level of fitness.
Go-To Workout: Any of the other workouts listed here are going to be great for general conditioning (especially the hill sprints listed above), but this treadmill workout was designed specifically for field sports where you're not always going to be moving forward in a straight line.
- Start slow (1 to 2 mph) and position your body sideways on the treadmill.
- Shuffle with the motion of the belt; your front foot steps forward and your back foot shuffles to meet it. Don't cross your feet in front of one another.
- Once you get comfortable with the movement you can increase the speed.
- Practice for 15 minutes on each side.
Spring Goal: Get Fit
If your goal for spring is just to have an established exercise routine that you can stick with and enjoy, whatever that ends up looking like, you can start now on the treadmill.
Walking can be incredibly beneficial in getting started. Or if you already have a routine, but it doesn't include any endurance training, walking or jogging can fill that void. The National Institute of Aging recommends everyone fit a little bit of each category of training (balance, strength, flexibility and endurance) into their fitness routine.
Kennedy's advice for beginners: Ignore the distance and just focus on the time spent on the treadmill. Start off with shorter durations and work your way up. Maybe it's 10 minutes to start, with the goal of eventually getting to 30 minutes.
"Allow yourself to be a beginner," she says. "And then once you're getting into it, just be excited about the signals your body's giving you, when you're getting a little bit out of breath and your muscles are getting a little sore. Those are signals your body is giving to you to let you know you're doing the right thing to get stronger."
To keep your time on the mill interesting, Myers recommends playing around with incline and speed to keep your body and brain engaged. Or, if you're more comfortable with a set plan, the treadmill's presets can be helpful, she says.
She also recommends setting the incline to a minimum of 1 percent. "Because the belt is pulling your legs backwards, you always want to have some level of an incline, to just get a little bit more muscle activation."
Best Treadmill Function: Play with presets and spend time getting to know the machine.
Go-To Workout: Get into the swing of things with the run/walk method:
- Warm up with a 5-minute walk.
- Start with 1 minute of running or jogging, followed by 2 minutes of walking.
- Try to go for 20 minutes total.
- As you get fitter, decrease the time spent walking and increase the time spent running.
Kennedy leaves us with one more important piece of advice: Move your sport of choice and training outside on the nice days of winter. "Every now and then, pop outside just to see how your training on the tread is keeping you in shape for outdoors and acclimated to the impact of pavement."
- American Council on Exercise: Amp Up Your Workout With These Metabolic Drills
- Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports: Effects of sprint interval training on VO2max and aerobic exercise performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis
- National Institute on Aging: Four Types of Exercise Can Improve Your Health and Physical Ability