15 Tips For Feeling More Engaged On The Treadmill

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A person with yellow headphones and a blue tank top sweats as she runs on a treadmill. If you're bor...

As the weather gets colder, you might be thinking about moving your running sessions indoors to a treadmill. Or maybe you're not a runner (yet) but want to get started, and the treadmill feels like the least intimidating place for you to do that. Wherever you are on your running adventures, you might be coming up against an age-old issue with this particular piece of cardio equipment. As a personal trainer, I know from both clients and my own workouts that it can be hard to feel engaged with your workout on a treadmill when you're literally just running in place.

Even though working out can boost your mental health significantly, it's hard for the gym to be helpful if you're dreading exercise because you know you'll be bored or disengaged the whole time. And engaging as fully as you can with your workout is important: The more you're mentally tuned into exercise, the more benefits you can reap from your sweat session.

If re-watching Into the Spider-verse for the 800th time is the only thing that will inspire you to hop onto the treadmill, then by all means, have at it. But if you're looking for other ways to feel inspired while you're treadmill-ing it up, here are 15 ways to do it.


Focus On Your Form


One of the first things my clients (and myself, let's be real) might forget to do on a treadmill is breathe. Treadmill running is different than walking or running on solid, unmoving ground, and that actually makes it even more important to focus on the most important part of any exercise form: breathing.

Try to take deep, calm breaths as you warm up, and try to maintain these breaths even if and when you up the intensity. Keep your chin level and your shoulders relaxed, and always try to land each step on the ball of your foot rather than your heel. That can require a lot of practice, which can keep you fully occupied and engaged in your run.


Make A Game Of It

When I was working at a gym, it was so rare for my colleagues to see me on a treadmill that they'd inevitably find some way to tease me about it. I welcomed those distractions because I was able to make a game out of them. How many minutes or miles could I get in before Friend X notices I'm on the treadmill? How many strides will it take before I start laughing at the way Friend Y is waving at me? Even if you don't have amusing colleagues, there are usually other visual stimuli in the gym that can help. Does your gym have a set-up that overlooks the outside world, for example? How many green cars or fluffy dogs do you want to count by the window before you slow down? Be as creative as you want!


Press All The Buttons

I can hear it now: that part-clinical, part-bird-like beeping sound that treadmill buttons make. Playing with all the treadmill buttons every few minutes can help spice up a workout that might otherwise feel dull and boring. Increase or decrease speed at will according to however your body is feeling at any given moment. If my body wants to work but not run, for example, I might crank down the speed but increase the incline when the clock hits the next 15 second mark. Because listening to your body is always the most important thing.


Run To A Playlist

If you're wondering how on Earth you're going to get through your commitment to spending 10 minutes on the treadmill, remember: three songs will often add up to roughly 10 minutes. If you're deeply embarrassing like me, you might crank up the songs of acoustic white boys crooning about their undying love for a girl. Whichever jams you choose, making a playlist of just three inspiring songs that will get your blood flowing can get you through a treadmill session.


Let The Treadmill Choose

You've made it to the treadmill, but hitting "Quick Start" might leave you feeling distinctly uninspired. Happily, most treadmills have a set of pre-programmed workouts for you. At the touch of a few buttons, you can be jogging up simulated hills or following a random program that your treadmill has generated for you. This layer of unexpectedness can add a lot of variety to your workout, and that dash of unpredictability can be exactly what you need to reinvigorate your relationship with the treadmill.


Have An Awesome Daydream

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Your time on the treadmill can be peak "you time," so let your mind have some fun with it. Visualizing your goals is a huge part of gymming and corporate life alike. So whatever you're visualizing in daydream land, letting your mind create positive imagery while you're on your run can help your body form happy associations with the treadmill. And that association, more than anything, can be crucial in how often you get back to the gym.


Get Off The Treadmill... And Then Get Back On

The treadmill can be the only part of your workout, but it doesn't have to be. If your gym space is conducive to this, toss a mat down next to the treadmill and hop away from your run every few minutes to do some pushups or crunches. Adding this variety to your workout can cut up a longer workout into more manageable chunks, and can make the whole experience that much more engaging and fun.


Do Some Lunges

Ah, lunges. If you turn the treadmill speed down very low (we're talking barely moving here), doing lunges on the treadmill can be a great way to build mental focus and lower body strength. Why mental focus? Because you'll be concentrating very hard on keeping your balance (I always keep my hands lightly braced on the safety bars of the machine, because I am definitely that guy who will faceplant) on the moving ground while also completing a challenging exercise that will be sure to leave you feeling like you've gotten a great workout in no time at all.


Climb Uphill

Most treadmills have the capacity to crank up to a high incline, and that can be more than enough to engage your brain and your body all at the same time. You don't have to go fast or for a long time to work up a solid sweat from climbing uphill, which will be nice if you want to just get in and get out. You might want to hold onto the rails of the treadmill, because it can give you a great sense of security while you're challenging yourself. That security can be a great confidence-booster.


Walk Sideways

If you're prone to tripping over your own feet like I am, you'll want to start this off very slowly and have a ginger grip on the hand rails while you're doing this one. But if you're up for it, rotate so you're walking sideways on the treadmill. Even if you can't confidently step one foot over the other in this position, developing a bit of a sideways skip where you bring your feet together and then apart, can be add a lot of fun and sense of play to an otherwise potentially dreary treadmill session.


Play With Speed


A lot of treadmills come with the option to toggle between two speeds at the touch of a button. As long as you're fully warmed-up and have good form, this can be a great option to add some sprints to your treadmill experience. The excitement of being able to start full-tilt running (or slow back down) at the touch of a button can be awesome when you're looking to focus entirely on your form and your ability to sprint like you're heading down a basketball court in the fourth quarter.


Remember That Not All Treadmills Are Created Equal

Different treadmills have different display features, which can provide an extra boost of fun. Some treadmills have a simulated track on the screen that physically shows your progress. Other treadmills have extra cool hill running sessions pre-programmed into them. In my experience, there are at least two different kinds in most gyms. Figuring out which of your treadmills has the coolest features for the workout you're in the mood for today can be super helpful.


Make Your Own Mini-Goals

Will you run at this higher-than-normal speed until the top of the next minute? Will you take a breather until you hit the next half-mile mark? Making up these little goals as you go can help keep your mind engaged throughout your workout, breaking your treadmill session down into little pieces so that you're not focused on having 20 whole minutes left. Instead, you're just focused on that next tiny goal. And you can definitely do that.


Stay Hydrated

Yes, staying hydrated will help you maintain your mental focus. Be mindful about drinking while running, though: you want to take smaller sips, no matter how tempting it might get to chug. Cramps from having too much water in your belly can be a nightmare on the treadmill. But if you start developing that sharp-ish pain in your sides, don't panic: just let yourself slow down and stop, breathe deeply, and stretch a little until the cramp fades.


Make Your Own Rules

You might have tried all of these suggestions over and over again, to no effect. You might still find yourself bored and disengaged on the treadmill unless you have the entire season of She-Ra loaded up and ready to watch. And that's OK. The most important rule in the book is listening to your body, and if your body is telling you that the most effective way to have a good treadmill workout is to watch TV (or to not have a treadmill workout at all), that's completely valid.


Next time you hop onto a treadmill, remind yourself that you don't have to play by anyone's rules but your own. Whether you're looking to stay on the treadmill for two minutes or ten miles, whatever you need to do in your brainspace to make treadmill-ing fun for you is valid. You've got this: your treadmill time is excellent "you time," and you deserve to enjoy every bit of it.

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