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8 Treadmill Mistakes You're Making

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Photo: freemixer / Getty Images

If your only experience with the treadmill is slo-mo dreadmill slogs in the middle of winter when you just can't bear to hit the actual pavement—err—ice, it's time to reacquaint yourself with the machine.

"A treadmill is a very dynamic machine and allows you to create such an engaging experience," says Angela Rubin, the Precision Running Lab Studio Manager at Equinox Chestnut Hill. (Related: The 30-Day Treadmill Workout Challenge That's Actually Fun

Don't believe her? Look no further than the gym's just-opened Precision Running Lab—a space that hosts interactive, heart-pumping (read: speed, intervals, the whole shebang) treadmill classes. It's the first of its kind on the east coast (the other lab exists at Equinox's Santa Monica location) and it will be the first class that Equinox offers to non-members as well as members (lucky for us Bostonians!).

But before you jump into a class—or onto the belt for that matter—it's time to address some of the most common mistakes we all make when running indoors. Here, we outline them (and their fixes) with the help of some running experts. Tune up your technique and you'll gain speed, endurance, and strength in less time. (Now that's a treadmill workout we can get behind.)

1. Skipping Your Warm-Up

You're in a rush, you just want to run, so you don't warm up. Big no-no. "Skipping a warm-up puts you at risk of pulling a muscle or straining a tendon. By warming up prior to a run you increase the elasticity of your connective tissue, warm up the hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors, and gradually raise your heart rate," explains Kristen Mercier, a Tier III+ trainer at Equinox Chestnut Hill.

The fix: A 3- to 5-minute walk or jog gets the blood warm and the body moving, Mercier says. High knees and butt kick for about 30 seconds each also will warm up the leg muscles, priming your body for an efficient run.

2. Running Too Close to the Front of the Belt

Hugging the front of the treadmill limits your arm drive and can keep you from running in your natural stride. "When you run so close to the monitor, you can subconsciously limit your forward and backward motion in order to not punch the treadmill," Rubin says. You might also arch backward, altering your posture.

A limited upper body can have a chain reaction to the lower body, too. "Our amazing design as humans is to have counterbalancing measures when we run," explains Rubin. "The right arm drives to counterbalance the left leg. If one of them is limited by an external factor, it will naturally have an effect on the other."

The fix: Scoot back. You want to aim to run in the middle of the belt. To make this a habit, put a small piece of tape on the arms of the treadmill about a foot back from the monitor, suggests Rubin. Challenge yourself to stay in line with that.

3. Holding On to the Sides of the Treadmill

Feel like you're working harder and able to push faster by holding onto the sides of the treadmill? "In reality, doing this takes load off of the legs thereby making it easier to get the job done," Mercier explains. "And the less effort you put in, the less calories you burn overall." Besides decreasing effort, holding on to the treadmill promotes bad posture, too—and can create tension in your neck, shoulders, and arms, she says.

The fix: If you feel the need to hold on, you're likely moving too fast. Slow down and focus on your form. "Think about lifting through your hips. This will cue your shoulders to drop and your body to relax. Your arms should be slightly bent, floating alongside your body," says Mercier.

4. Jumping to the Sides of the Treadmill

"Stopping forward movement requires the body to react to breaking forces," says Rubin. In a natural environment (running outside), you'd decelerate more gradually. "Stepping off to the sides almost always happens because it's 'easier' and less work then naturally slowing down," Rubin says. "If you are looking to become a stronger, more stable, better runner, little shortcuts can add up to less work and really affect your goals."

Not to mention, misplacing your foot just the tiniest bit can lead to a twisted ankle, a turned knee, or worse, a nasty fall.

The fix: It's safer to hop off your treadmill at walking speeds (4 mph and below), yes—but you're better off training your body to master a more natural deceleration so that you can do it when you're not on a tread, too, Rubin explains. (Treadmills in the Precision Running Lab are designed to decelerate at a much faster rate to avoid the need to jump to the sides, she explains.)

If your treadmill has the ability to program a speed, program a slow recovery speed that you can tap to quickly slow down the treadmill at the end of an interval or sprint. Notice that you can't quite slow down after a sprint? "You are likely going too fast," she says. "Slow down your sprinting speed until you are able to handle slowing down and keeping a walk or jog recovery, honoring the same active recovery competitive runners train with."

5. Being Super Zoned Out

Treadmill TVs can be hard to avoid—but by tuning in to a show (and out of your workout) you aren't getting the most out of your run. "When you're distracted, your posture gets thrown off, which impacts your gait. This increases your risk of tripping, falling, or developing a stress injury moving forward," adds Mercier.

The fix: Set a goal for your run and keep it top of mind throughout your workout. Whether you decide to do speedwork, a hill run, or maintain a specific heart-rate zone, having a purpose will keep you focused, says Mercier.

6. Looking Down at Your Feet

Runners who are nervous that they might veer left or right or fall off the mill entirely (all of us, honestly) tend to look down while running on a treadmill. But this posture puts tension in your neck and shoulders, Rubin says. This actually decreases the oxygen intake you'd get in a more natural position, hindering overall performance.

The fix: Keep your gaze lifted and shoulders back. Try and find a gaze that's forward with a slight tilt down. Often this is right at the treadmill's screen, if it has one. "Most treadmill manufacturers put their monitors an 'average' height from the belt," says Rubin. But everyone's different so make sure to find what works best for you. If your treadmill is in front of a mirror, use that to check your form.

7. Doing the Same Speed and Run on Repeat

Long, steady runs have their place in every workout, but doing them on the treadmill can be super boring. These jogs also aren't the most effective way to take advantage of the mill. Precision Running Lab classes are interval-based, a solid strategy for boosting strength and endurance, says Rubin. "There is a huge library of runs to keep things interesting and get you the results you are looking for."

The fix: Try this under-20-minute interval workout after finding your PR (your best average one-minute sprint pace).

  • 45 seconds: -1.0 mph from 1-minute PR. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 45 seconds: Same speed with incline at 1 percent. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 45 seconds: Same speed with incline at 2 percent. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 45 seconds: -0.5 with incline at 3 percent. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 45 seconds: Same speed with incline at 4 percent. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 45 seconds: Same speed with incline at 5 percent. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 45 seconds: -0.5 with incline at 6 percent. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 45 seconds: Same speed with incline at 7 percent. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 45 seconds: Same speed with incline at 8 percent. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.

8. Fearing Incline

Running uphill takes calorie and muscle burn to the next level. "By adding incline you can increase the intensity of the workout without always having to work with speed," says Rubin. "You can run at lower speeds and still get your heart rate up just by increasing incline. It also recruits more muscles in the lower body, especially the calves, hamstrings, and glutes."

Furthermore, incline takes some of the forces off of the knees, she explains, meaning people with nagging knee issues might feel relief from hills.

The fix: Crank up the incline so that you're not sprinting out of control on a steep incline, but are still challenging your body. Try this12-minute hill workout from the Precision Running Lab after finding your PR (your best average one-minute sprint pace).

  • 60 seconds: -3.0 mph under PR pace at a 7 percent incline. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 60 seconds: +0.2 mph faster at a 7 percent incline. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 60 seconds: +0.2 mph faster at a 7 percent incline. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 60 seconds: +0.2 mph faster at a 7 percent incline. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 60 seconds: +0.2 mph faster at a 7 percent incline. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.
  • 60 seconds: +0.2 mph faster at a 7 percent incline. Recover 60 seconds walk/jog.

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