Running on a Treadmill: How to Stay Motivated

Living in Michigan means that between the months of November and March (sometimes April), we will undoubtedly be living with extremely weather conditions from snow and ice to freezing rain and 60 MPH wind storms.  If you are anything like me, not the most graceful person alive, running outside during these blustery winters months is just not an option.  Even if you take away the icy sidewalks and roads, it still leaves with freezing cold temperatures.   Last week I as I drove to work the thermostat in my car read -2 below 0!  This means that each year once winter rolls around I must resort to using the trusty ole’ treadmill!

Many runners do not like running on the treadmill, and will hit the pavement outside in extreme whether conditions.  Every once in a while on my way home from work, I pass that one dedicated runner who is out running through the snow!  I normally chuckle and think to myself how crazy I think they are! Don’t they know how cold it is out there?  I personally have very few issues with running on a treadmill.  Yes, it does get “boring” sometimes but for me I will take boring over freezing any day of the week!

I know staying motivated while running can be difficult for a lot of runners.  Here are some tips to help you stay motivated, along with some frequently asked questions about treadmill running.

Question: Is running on the treadmill easier than running outdoors?

Answer: Yes!  Treadmill running may feel more taxing; however, it is actually a bit easier than running outdoors.  When running on a treadmill, you do not have to overcome the effects of wind resistance and you also have the assistance of a moving belt doing part of the work for you.  In order to more closely simulate road running while running on a treadmill, set the treadmill’s incline at one or two percent.

Question: Can I train on a treadmill for a road race?

Answer: Yes, you can train for a road race mostly on a treadmill, but you will have to make a few tweaks.  For starters, be sure to increase the incline and run “hills” on the treadmill once or twice a week.  In addition to running “hills”, you should take steps to prepare your body for racing on asphalt since the treadmill belt offers a relatively soft landing.  Some suggestions are:

  • Strength-train twice a week (lunges, squats, hip extensions, planks, push-ups).
  • Do at least one short run each week during the last four weeks of your training program outside.
  • Finally, on race day, run by effort – not by pace or time goal.  You’re feet will be running on unfamiliar ground, literally.

Question: Are treadmills “easier” on your body than running outdoors?

Answer: Yes and no!  The general, running on a treadmill is less stressful on the body than running outdoors because the treadmill absorbs a significant amount of impact, sparing your body.  On the other hand, the downside is that running on a treadmill does not condition the shock-absorbing musculature of the lower extremities like road running does.  The results: over the long term, heavy treadmill running may actually leave you more prone to injuries like stress fractures. 

Tips For Staying Motivated While Running on a Treadmill

Try Interval Training: Rather than running at a constant pace, mix up your run with hard and easy segments.  It can be as simple as a five minute warm-up followed by three sets of four minute intervals (two minutes of hard running and two minutes of easy running), followed by a five minute cool-down.

Mix it up with Strength-Training Exercises: After a five minute warm-up, run at a comfortable pace for five minutes, then step off the treadmill and do two minutes of strength-training exercises such as crunches, push-ups, side-crunches, lunches, etc.  Try doing four sets of running/strength-training.

Work on Improving Your Stride Turnover: Treadmill runs are a great opportunity to work on improving your stride turnover, because you have got your running time right in front of you!  All you have to do is count how many times one foot hits the belt in a minute, then double that number to get your stride count.  Elite runners run at about 180 steps per minute – see how close you can get to that!  Working on your stride count can improve your running efficiency, even for outdoor runs!

Zone Out: Unlike running outside, running on a treadmill does not require that you pay close attention to your surroundings and watch for cars, cyclists, dogs, and other hazards!  You do not even have to think about your route!  So running on a treadmill gives you a chance to lose yourself in the rhythm or your breathing or the pounding of your feet.  Try blocking out everything around you and enter a peaceful, relaxing state.

Focus on Training a Different Part of Your Body: Although treadmills may not provide the most versatility in regards to a complete body workout in every aspect, you can choose to focus on either strength training or cardio training.  Practice strength training and muscle building for your thigh and calf muscles by slowing down your pace and setting the treadmill on the steepest incline or focus on an intense cardio workout by using no incline and running at a decently “fast” pace for as long as you can.

Plan Your Goals & Track Your Progress: Goal setting and tracking your progress are the clearest ways of establishing a consistent workout program, and they are also powerful forms of direction and motivation!  Take some time to think about what will help you begin your treadmill training program and what will help keep you motivated.  Write down these ideas in a fitness logbook.  Keep logging your improvements and you will see how well you are doing, and it will help you set new goals!  If you achieve your current goals and feel like you have been doing the same things for ages, set a new challenge for yourself!  Examples of items you can track: haw far you run/walk, how long you worked out out, the time of day you trained and how you felt on a scale of 1 to 5.

Cover the Console:  This is one of my favorites!!!  There is nothing motivating about seeing the clock slowly tick away when you are running on the treadmill.  You think you have ran forever, glance down and see it has only been 30 seconds since you last looked down!  Try covering up the clock (or look away from it) as much as possible.  Turn it into a game and see how long you can resist looking!  

Race Someone: “First one to a mile wins!”  It may seem silly but it will really motivate you to push yourself and have some fun running!  If you workout with a friend at the gym, hop on the treadmill and challenge them to a race!  Trust me, your workout will fly by!  If you are alone in the gym, with others around you, peek at the console of the person next you and race him/her (they do not need to know)!

Do any of these tips work for you?  How do you stay motivated while running on the treadmill?


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