It might be best known as a warm-up, a cool down, or a last resort when all of the ellipticals are taken, but thetreadmill is making a comeback: In fact, the machines account for nearly 60 percent of annual home fitness equipment sales, according to the most recent data from the National Sporting Goods Association. And a few trendy gyms are getting in on the action with group treadmill classes like Tread and Shred at Equinox and Tread Bootcamp at Crunch Gyms.
Here’s why you might want to give this throwback another go: Treadmills allow you to customize your workout, speed, and terrain in a way that just isn’t possible on a trail, says Jessica Matthews, M.S. an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). With a few buttons you can switch it up and challenge your body in new ways—which makes it an essential tool for staying fit. What’s more, treadmills tend to calculate the number of calories you burn with more precision than other machines like the elliptical, says Matthews. To see those numbers soar, check out Matthews’s tricks for dominating your next treadmill workout:
Shake Up Your Warm-Up
A standard treadmill warm-up lasts five minutes. The thing is, walking briskly can get boring fast. To challenge yourself from the get-go, open up your hips, and (bonus!) target your inner thigh muscles, alternate between walking forward, backward, and sideways.
Try it: For a five-minute warm-up, begin walking at a very low speed (1.5 to 2 miles per hour) and alternate between walking forward, walking backward, and walking sideways, switching your lead leg each time. Do each variation for 30 seconds to one minute. Then repeat the sequence three to four times.
Opt for Intervals
If you just jog at a steady pace without an incline, you’re not going to see huge results—even if you stick with it for an hour. A better bet: Interval training. “It provides a time-efficient, highly-effective workout experience, enabling people to burn more calories in less time,” says Matthews. You can do this by either changing the speed or the incline during different segments of your workout. (Note: Beginners should adjust only one variable at a time.)
Try it: For a 15-minute workout, first warm up at a brisk pace (about 4 mph) for five minutes. Then, increase your speed to about 6 mph (or faster, if you’re comfortable) for 20 seconds. Next, reduce the speed to 4.5 mph for 40 seconds, and continue to alternate between fast and slow intervals for a total of five minutes before you cool down for five minutes.
Head for the Hills
You can fake a hilly hiking trip with a simple treadmill trick: Just tweak the incline. The best part: You’ll strengthen and sculpt your lower body while boosting your calorie burn, says Matthews.
Try it: Complete a five-minute warm-up at 4 mph a two-percent incline. Then, increase the speed until you’re jogging at about 5 mph at an incline of four percent for a full minute. Next, add a two-percent incline every minute until you’re at the max—usually 10 percent. Then, reduce the incline by two percent every minute until you’re back to a two-percent incline. Reduce your speed to 3.5 mph and cool down for three minutes.