Fitness tips: How to make the treadmill interesting when you can’t go outside

Can't get outside? Dreading the thought of spending 45 minutes on one of these? It doesn't have to be boring. In fact, treadmills can be challenging and fun when incorporated into an interval workout using weights.

Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised when I say that I am not a huge fan of the treadmill.

As much as I enjoy my running habit, the treadmill just wears me out. I can go for miles outside, but after a mile on the treadmill I am ready to shut the thing down and move on to something else.

But there are some days and places where the treadmill is the only viable option. Living in the Sunbelt, there are few days where you can’t get outside. But up north, it’s a different matter altogether. And some people live in cities without decent or safe places to run.

But what do you do if you need that cardio buzz but don’t like the hamster wheel feel of a treadmill?

My suggestion is to mix it up. I had a friend show me a workout he does in which you incorporate weights and treadmill work in one session that will get you some running time, strength training and a solid blast of cardio work all within about 40 to 45 minutes. I’ve done this many times since and have found it to be an effective and challenging workout.

So let’s say I want to lift arms that day. What I’m going to do is nine supersets divided into three parts. The first could look like this:

1. Dumbell curls, 10 reps; overhead tricep extensions, 10 reps; 1 minute, 15 second run on the treadmill at  7-8 mph. Repeat two more times.

The superset should be done with no rest between stations. Next, you could move to the second superset:

2. Hammer curls with dumbells, 8 reps; cable pushdowns, 12 reps; 1:15 run on the treadmill, 7-8 mph. Repeat two more times.

Notice by now you’ve run approximately 7 minutes and 30 seconds, and the runs are all done at a pretty fast clip. If 7-8 mph is not fast for you, pick a speed that is. Your cardio benefit, however, is much longer because you’re also lifting weights while your heart rate is elevated from the run. You’re in a sustained cardio zone now, and you’re not done. We move on to the third superset:

3. Barbell curls, 8 reps; skull crushers, 8 reps; 1:15 on the treadmill, but pick your speed up an extra 1 mph.

The last superset will be the most intense as you increase speed on treadmill while also growing tired from what is now at least 35 minutes of constant activity. By the time you’re done, you will likely have run 1.25 miles and performed 18 sets of weightlifting. You got some running in plus strength training. Within 45 minutes, you’re done!

You can mix this up to suit however you choose to lift weights. Your supersets can be one set of lifting, one set running. This could be even tougher, as the “down” time between runs will be shorter. You also can do more or less than 9 supersets, depending on what you want to do. What I like about this is it gives you the same benefits of interval training but also adds strength training to the mix. Plus, you get your run in! And it breaks up the monotony of treadmill work.

One thing I would caution: Don’t do this on a day where your strength training focuses on legs. A run/lift workout like this on leg day will rob you of using all the power you could be using to maximize your weightlifting workout. The same may be true with mixing upper body lifts with running bursts, but it’s particularly acute and counterproductive on leg day.

So if you can’t get outside to run and can’t bear the thought of pounding out your miles on a treadmill, try something like this to keep things interesting and challenging.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088


2 thoughts on “Fitness tips: How to make the treadmill interesting when you can’t go outside

  1. I know exactly what your talking about with the treadmill. I use quite a bjt but it really is like work to me. I usually try to get lost into whatever music I am listening to.

    • I look at it as a tool. It can help me do certain things. But I’ve found that I can’t use it as a substitute for actual runs. Not sure why. Maybe the lack of visual stimulus, not getting a sense of going anywhere, despite what the distance meter says. But in short bursts in a well-designed workout, the treadmill can be really valuable, even to people like me who just don’t like it very much.

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