Getting Starting Using a Treadmill

 You’ve bought your first treadmill. Maybe it was because it is more convenient and less expensive than going to the gym. Or maybe you want less impact on your joints than you would get from running outside. Here are a few observations and tips that you find useful while using your treadmill.

Treadmills are Easier!

First, you will find that running on a treadmill seems easier than running outside. This is partially due to the different position that the treadmill puts your body in. When running outside, you actually lean forward a bit to move forward. On a treadmill, the belt is moving your feet back so your body will naturally adjust to a more upright position. Not having to move forward actually makes the running easier. However, if you adjust the incline of the treadmill to a one to three degree angle, you will be forced to lean forward and it will feel more like running outside.


Not actually going anywhere also means the air is not moving over your skin to cool as well as If you were running through the air. That is why you may feel hotter and sweat more than when running outside. It also explains why many treadmills come with fans and cup holders built in.


Running on a treadmill can also be easier than running outside because you set the built-in programs to match your goals and the programs adjust your intensity and time accordingly. All you have to do then is do what the program is making you do!



Many “heart rate programs” built in to treadmills will adjust the incline and speed of your workout to reach or maintain a target heart rate. Most home treadmills come with “contact” heart rate monitors that read your pulse by holding onto the handles. This is fine for periodic checks, but it is better to let your arms swing freely while running and not grab the handrail. Therefore, there are also wireless heart rate monitors available the wrap around your chest and transmit data directly to your treadmill.


Most trainers will advise you to start out slowly (“warm up”) and end slowly (“cool down”). The purpose of the warm up seems to be to prevent injury to cold muscles by suddenly using them, but there seems to be little evidence for this. Both the warm up and cool down advice seems to have been handed down as conventional wisdom without much evidence behind them.


You may feel a little uneasy when you first get off the treadmill after a workout. This seems to have something to do with seeming to move forward while actually being stationary and then seeming to move forward while actually moving forward!. Don’t worry. The brain adjusts quickly and then it’s back to reality!

How High Should I Adjust My Treadmill Incline?


The assumption under this question arises from a study (Jones, Journal of Sports Science, August 1996) that showed that a 1% treadmill incline offsets the lack of “wind” effect that occurs when moving forward over ground, making running on the treadmill with its incline set at 1% roughly equivalent to running over ground.


However, the Jones study found this equivalent only when his subjects ran at speeds of a kilometer is less than five minutes. That makes sense that a fast pace would produce that sort of resistance, but that’s much faster than most people will run.


It turns out that the biomechanics of running on a treadmill are not significantly different than those of running over ground. According to published research, gaits, joint movements, and power trajectories were essentially the same in both forms of running. See the study here:


It has often been said that treadmill running is easier because the treadmill is actually moving you forward, while in over ground running you need to do that yourself. However, this 2008 study places this in doubt. Of course, the “give” of the treadmill’s cushioning, as well as the length of the runner’s stride also affect the perceived and real difficulty of the running both on a treadmill and over ground.


What Muscles Do You Use on the Treadmill?

Perhaps you’re using your treadmill to lose weight or improve your cardiovascular capacity. Treadmills are one of the best pieces of equipment for that. However, you may not realize that the beneficial effect that treadmill workouts can have on your muscles themselves. Following is a rundown one some of main muscles you work and strengthen by running or walking on a treadmill.

Your Heart

The heart is perhaps  the most important muscle involved in cardiovascular exercise. That’s why they call it “cardio.” The heart really is a muscle and its strength contributes not just to overall health, but to the capacity of your other muscles as well. Regularly raising the heart rate both strengthens the heart for immediate use and improves its endurance. This then also improves the “vascular” part – blood flow -as well as the “aerobic” part – lungs. Your blood vessels and lungs may not be muscles, but their health depends partially on a strong heart.


The quadriceps are the large muscles on the front of the thighs. They are involved every time you straighten your leg or move your foot forward. They contribute to your thighs looking either strong or skinny.


You already know your calf muscles are on the back of your leg between the ankle and the knee. Calves are “tightly knit,” with many more muscle cells per area than bigger muscles. This allows them to withstand very high frequency, high repetitions use for prolonged periods. Calf muscles also tend to cramp, especially in older people. Strengthening and stretching them can help prevent these cramps.


The hamstrings are the muscles on the back of your thighs that bring your feet back toward your buttocks. The hamstrings are often overlooked, probably because you can’t see them! Yet they contribute a major portion of the force in your stride. Some people tend to “pull” or strain their hamstrings, but stretching can help prevent his. The latest thinking is that stretching after your workout is more effective than stretching before your workout.


Yes, that’s them. The muscles no one forgets the name of. They keep all the rest of things working well together. Did you notice that these muscles also look much better on people who run or walk a lot?

All the Rest

There are many smaller and less noticeable muscles that are also strengthened and toned by treadmill workouts. These include the adductors and abductors (inside and outside of upper legs) and the many muscles of the feet. Because these muscles are all worked in the natural motions of running and walking, they are exercised in exact proportion to what is needed by those movements. Therefore, the most important thing about them is to just move!

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