Oct 25, 2013

    The power of the humble treadmill

    FOR many outdoor runners, the idea of pounding a treadmill means trading daylight for drudgery, but fitness experts say treadmill classes can hone efficiency and form and add a dash of glamour to indoor running.

    "There's a little snobbery about running on a treadmill," said Mr David Siik, a treadmill-class fitness instructor at fitness chain Equinox.

    "Most runners are ashamed of running indoors."

    Mr Siik, who was a track-and-field sprinter, turned to treadmill running reluctantly after a post-college stint in New York City.

    "I was sick of running into cars trying to get to Central Park," he said. "New York is not always the friendliest place to run."

    Now, the humble treadmill has him hooked.

    "I still really enjoy running outside, but there is nothing better than the ability to calculate and monitor your goals on a treadmill. You're running on a computer."

    The 33-year-old believes too many people get on a treadmill without knowing what to do.

    "They hit 'on' and then they're clueless," he said. He tries to bring the energy of a spin class to his 45-minute treadmill-workout class, which includes three runs, each progressively harder, after an initial warmup.

    The treadmill is by far the most popular cardio machine, accounting for 58 per cent of home-fitness sales last year, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, a percentage that has stayed consistent over the past years.

    Ms Melanie Douglass, a dietitian and trainer with Icon Health and Fitness who has also taught classes on the treadmill, calls it her preferred piece of equipment.

    She said: "People always work more efficiently (on the treadmill), because the motor and belt help you maintain a consistent pace."

    She added that people err when they go too slow, or do the same thing day after day.

    "Exercise is not supposed to be comfortable," she said. "You have to challenge your body."

    Dr Michele Olson, professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University in Alabama, said that besides teaching proper running and walking form, classes help you learn how to work the bells and whistles on the machine.

    And, unlike outdoor running, training on a treadmill ensures that you are running at your intended pace, she said. Simply varying the incline every minute will increase calorie burning.

    But that's just the beginning.

    Prof Olson said: "We've researched and studied walking and running on treadmills in all directions. You burn more calories moving sideways and backwards, particularly at walking speeds."

    She even suggests people try walking on the treadmill with their hands while keeping their feet on the floor.

    "After a set of push-ups, treadmill walk with your hands," she said. "Your shoulder girdle will provide you with both upper-body strength and endurance in those under-aerobically-used upper-body muscles."

    Mr Siik said using a treadmill is the best 30 to 45 minutes of cardio anyone can get inside a gym.

    "The beautiful thing about a treadmill is that it will never lie to you. It's a brutally honest machine," he added.