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Treadmill Tips: How to Get the Most Out of Your Cardio Workout

The dreaded treadmill - is it friend or foe? Get-Fit Guy explains how to get the most out of your treadmill time. Plus, check out the 3 best treadmill workouts to get a combination of cardiovascular fitness and fat burning.

By
Ben Greenfield,
June 16, 2014
Episode #190

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In the very first Get-Fit Guy episode, Which Exercise Machine Burns the Most Calories?, you learned that running is a full body workout that can burn 600-1,200 calories per hour – and specifically that running up an incline on a treadmill is one of the best ways to boost your metabolism for hours after you’ve finished exercising.

Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by NatureBox. Discover smarter snacking with a new NatureBox each month. Get 50% off your first box when you go to NatureBox.com/qdt.

 

But is the treadmill a “natural” way to exercise? How can you get the most out of your treadmill workout? What are the best treadmill workouts to get a combination of cardiovascular fitness and fat burning?

You’re about to find out.

Are Treadmills Natural?

fascinating study released this week found that if a running wheel is placed outdoors in a natural setting, wild animals will come and run on it voluntarily. In the study, the researchers conducted a very simple experiment - they simply set up a running wheel in their backyard, then used an infrared camera to capture on tape how animals in the wild would respond.

The researchers claim that the wild animals chose to run on the wheels (one mouse in particular for an astounding 18 minutes!) because they enjoyed it. And this experiment put to rest the argument about whether mice in the lab are running on wheels simply because they live in cages or for some other reason. Turns out, wild animals will run in place anywhere they get an opportunity.

In exercise science research, a treadmill is to humans as a running wheel is to mice, rats, hamsters, or any other running rodent – so this study suggests that it may not be so “unnatural” for us humans to actually grow fond of running on a moving belt (although I have to admit, I've met relatively few people who actually have a love affair with the dreaded treadmill!).

What NOT to Do on a Treadmill

So now that we know that it's likely a totally natural, hardwired, endorphin-driven reward response for us to hop on a treadmill at the gym, the question becomes: Is there anything we shouldn’t do while on that moving belt?

Firstly, an exercise like walking, at which your body is very efficient, should be avoided on the treadmill if your goal is to burn calories. As a matter of fact, I have to frequently point this out to clients who walk through the parking lot, walk up the stairs, walk into a gym, and complain to their personal trainer that they’re not losing any weight with their morning fitness walk. Why is this? Well, they walk so much during their regular day that their body just doesn’t get much of a metabolic boost from walking during their cardio session.

See also: 5 Ways to Beat the Boredom of Indoor Cardio

 

Next, unless you are holding weights or wearing a weighted vest while going up an incline, walking on the treadmill burns far fewer calories than running on a treadmill, and even fewer calories than walking outside - about 200-400 calories per hour of walking. That’s not much. The primary reason for that is that humans are very efficient at walking, as most of us have done so since an early age. So if you’re using a treadmill, then either sprint, run, jog, or use an incline instead of walking at a leisurely pace in a straight line.

Finally, avoid the common mistake of choosing a ridiculously high incline, then holding on to the handrails to keep up. You may look like a champion Everest ascender, but the fact is, whether you’re walking or running, the treadmill rails should only be used if you have extreme balance difficulties, or must stabilize yourself to change a setting. If you do walk up an incline on the treadmill, be sure to vigorously pump your arms too.

3 Best Treadmill Workouts

So what are the best treadmill workouts for blasting calories, burning fat, and boosting cardiovascular fitness? Here are 3 of my top treadmill routines:

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