This is not actually an ode, it’s more of a lament: Lamentations on Treadmill Running.
I can’t think of anything more boring, fitness-wise, than running on a treadmill.
At least if you are on a stationary bike, you’re stable enough to read a magazine.
Back in grad school, I could read my homework while stepping on the elliptical. But the treadmill is just too bouncy.
If you happen to be so blessed as to actually enjoy running for the sake of running, then you would most likely prefer to be outside, where you have the diversion of passing cars, squirrels, other humans, trees, and possibly even the movement of light on water (my very favorite thing to see).
But on a treadmill indoors, well, you have none of these things.
I often feel like a hamster on a freaking wheel while on the treadmill, but I still do it. Partly because of heat, insects, rain, and pollen, but mostly because I am still recovering from a back injury (I had two bulging lumbar disks, one high, one low, one left, one right) that occurred about a year and a half ago, and the treadmill creates less impact on feet, knees, hips and back than any real-world surface. It’s a nice transition from nothing and on my way to building up to dirt, track or gravel. I need to start somewhere.
I’ve been doing all the other kinds of cardio I can think of, just not running. The omission of this cardio category is starting to bother me. I have the suspicion that I am letting fear control me, so I want to get over that hurdle and move forward.
There are some tricks that I use to make treadmills more bearable, and some tricks that gyms can use to make them more usable. I will start with the gyms. So like, if you are gym shopping, or opening your own gym, these are things to think about.
What gyms can do to make it better
As a gym user, none of these things are in your control, but when you are setting up a home gym or choosing a gym, it’s something to think about. Alternately, if you are a Negative Nancy, I have now armed you with a whole list of complaints for your gym. You’re welcome.
Gyms can arrange the treadmills for maximal entertainment value.
I do not mean putting the treadmills in front of a big wall of TVs. Who cares. The last thing in the world I want to do is watch more HGTV or FOX News. I want to be able to watch people while I work out. I mean, it would be nice if we could manage to bring in some Chippendale’s dancers to do their daily strength training workout, but really any normal people doing normal things are fine.
The best setup I’ve seen is cardio equipment on a second-floor deck overlooking a first-floor weight room. You could feel like the hawk-eye observer watching people down below (Not at all creepy). Another great setup is cardio overlooking the outdoor pool. We stayed in a hotel in Las Vegas one time with this setup and a group of badly behaved Kardashian wannabes showed up during my workout for three consecutive days. I didn’t want to leave when my time was up.
Conversely, it is the worst when gyms put a treadmill right in front of a wall. You are already doing the most boring fitness thing imaginable. Now let’s put you in front of a plain white wall while you do it. Or maybe a crooked motivational poster that says something about flying with eagles. Hmm, I’m on a treadmill. At least give me a poster of the African savannah so I can pretend I’m a lion chasing zebras or something.
Gyms can have great music.
Unfortunately, “great music” is really going to vary depending on who you talk to, so what I mean by this is music that I personally like. And that is going to be music you hate if you aren’t into 80’s pop and breakup songs. (Maybe plan your own playlists for treadmill runs).
Gyms can invest in treadmills that quickly adjust speeds.
Some treadmills have quick-set buttons that allow you to bump up from, say 4mph to 6, 7 or 8mph by touching a single button. The one I used today required bumping up a tenth of a mile-per-hour at a time, which is ok if you are just going to warm up and then hit a steady pace for the freaking run, but not so great if you want to do sprints. Because if you are going to sprint for 30 seconds at your all-out pace, the last thing in the world you want to do is take an extra 15 seconds trying to bump down a tenth of a mile at a time. You could literally die in the process. I realize I could step on the side rails while I dial it down. But that feels like quitting.
Things that I personally do to make my treadmill experience less hideous:
I bring my music.
I really need a compelling playlist. I love Spotify for this reason. There are so many running playlists available. It’s fun finding new things. There are two challenges here. One is that if you don’t have access to Wifi where you will be treadmilling, you will need to download your playlist, which means you will need to pay for Spotify, and that is a bummer because we all love free stuff. But maybe you have Wifi in your gym. Yay for you!
The next challenge for me (probably not you) is that I still don’t really have Bluetooth headphones—well, I do technically own them, but they are almost never charged, so I am still using corded headphones. And once I get going in my run, there is an 85% chance I will catch a cord in one of my hands and yank it out of my ear, probably sending it flying into the person next to me.
I do Sprints! Just like in spin class, sprints interrupt the hellish monotony of the treadmill workout. I’ll do about six minutes at a good 5k pace, then back off, walk for a minute, do another six minutes at a 5k pace, back off, walk, and then do some flat out sprints for a while. For me, sprints are actually really fun. I wish I could do more of them without wanting to vomit.
I climb fake hills! Just like the sprints, the hills break up the monotony. After I get really tired/nauseated from the sprints, I am typically too tired to come back up to my 5k pace for a while, so I pick up the treadmill incline and do a slower-speed uphill walk or jog. I am still recovering from the injury, so I have nothing to prove, just happy to be moving at all.
Big Finish! It’s a thing I do to entertain myself, that I like to finish strong. So I have it in my head that I am always going to sprint across the imaginary finish line (let’s say I have chosen to run 5k that day). So maybe I have like a half mile left. For some moronic reason, I forget how long a half mile really is, and I think I can run flat out for a whole half mile. LOLS. So I run like 0.2 miles and nearly die, and then I have to spend the next 0.1 mile clicking down the speed on the ridiculously slow torture controller on my gym’s treadmill. By then I’m down to like, 0.2 miles remaining. And by the time I’m not gasping for breath anymore, I have about 0.1 mile left and I realize that I have just enough time to actually sprint across the finish line, so I click it all the way back up again, and about the time the treadmill almost gets to a decent running pace (but not my sprint pace), the little computer brain inside the treadmill recognizes the fact that I have completed my goal distance and decides to shut me down. Game over. Anticlimactic end. But oh well, like I said, I have nothing to prove, and any kind of moving is better than no moving.
As I reach the end of this post, as at the end of this day, I really am just thankful for the health that I have, for the fitness level that I have, and for the ability to keep on moving every day. Even though life presents its challenges, I always appreciate the opportunity to keep on growing!