6 Secrets to Take the Dread Out of the Treadmill

By , SparkPeople Blogger
There are two kinds of people in life: those who love the treadmill and those who can't stand it. In case it wasn't already obvious from this blog's title, I'm in the latter group! I will run outdoors in a foot snow, below freezing temperatures, 90-degree heat, and even torrential rain before I will run on the treadmill. But I do draw the line somewhere: ice. When conditions are icy (OK, also if temps hit single digits), I'm not willing to risk injuring myself by running outside. Luckily, this winter has only forced me inside (count 'em) three times, and with spring on the way, I have my fingers crossed that I won't have to use the treadmill again until next year.

Usually, I can only muster about 10 or 15 minutes on the treadmill before boredom wins and I leave the gym feeling frustrated with myself. So I had to come up with some new ways to make the most of the treadmill. And to my surprise: These tactics really worked. I'm not talking about listening to music or watching TV either. If you really want to have fun on the treadmill—or at least pass the time more easily—this is how you do it.

1. Add Intervals.
This is my #1 tip for beating treadmill boredom. I tend to tell people that I have exercise A.D.D. because I can't do any one thing for long before I get really distracted. To me, simply being on the treadmill is boring. Why add to it by running (or walking) at the same pace or incline the entire time? Intervals are by far the BEST way to pass the time on any cardio machine. Rather than 30 minutes of running (or walking) at one continuous pace, you can break up your run into six 5-minute intervals, for example. It really helps the time fly by and gives you something to focus on. Now if you're not sure what to do, don't worry. Interval training is not rocket science. All it means is that you work harder, then you work easier by changing up your speed and/or incline. Here are some examples of how I incorporate intervals on the treadmill to pass the time. Note that you may need to adjust the speeds here to suit your fitness level, as these are just examples to give you ideas.

Interval Example #1
  • Run at 7 mph for 1 minute.
  • Run at 7.5 mph for 1 minute.
  • Run at 8 mph for 1 minute.
  • Sprint at 9 mph for 30 seconds.
  • Recover at 6 mph for 2 minutes.
  • Repeat until you reached your workout goal (30 minutes, 3 miles, etc.)
Interval Example #2
  • Run or walk at a moderate pace for 2 minutes.
  • Run or walk at a challenging pace for 1 minute.
  • Run or walk at an easy pace for 1 minutes.
  • Repeat until you reached your workout goal (minutes or miles).
The types of intervals you can do are really endless. Shake things up and change it each time you hit the treadmill. For more ideas, check out these Interval Workouts for Walkers and Interval Workouts for Runners.

2. Race someone.
I discovered this by accident. One of my good friends is a trainer at my gym, and when I hopped on the treadmill—all set to do my own interval workout—he jumped on the treadmill next to me a couple minutes later and said he was going to race me. "First one to a mile wins!" I know it seems silly, but it really motivated me to push myself and to have fun with my run. That first mile was over in the blink of an eye! Bring a buddy along to try this out. If you're working out alone, visualize yourself in a race. Or if you're in a crowded gym, peek at the console of the person next to you and race him or her (they don't need to know!).

3. Watch yourself…Or Don't.
This tip might not work for everyone, but it does work for me. Although some research shows that watching yourself in a mirror while working out can sap your motivation, I think it depends on the person. I don't exactly LOVE looking at myself in the mirror, but when I chose a treadmill positioned across the room but facing a mirrored wall, I found that watching myself run made me feel motivated. I'd glance up and check out my form. Seeing myself run made me feel strong and fit, and that inspired me to keep going. But if you're the opposite, choose a treadmill without a mirror view to stay motivated.

4. Cover the console.
There is nothing motivating about seeing the clock slowly tick away when you're on the treadmill. So I do my best to cover up the clock (or look away from it) as much as possible. It's almost like a game I play with myself to see how long I can resist looking at it. A watched pot never boils, and a watched treadmill clock never ticks. You're better off looking at something else if you're trying to prevent boredom!

5. Challenge yourself.
It's true that running and walking on a treadmill is not as challenging as doing the same exercise outside. (Learn the many reasons why here.) But the treadmill has other perks: like showing you exactly how hard you're working. I take advantage of these truths when on the treadmill. I push myself to run faster than I normally would outside (and I can see exactly how fast I'm going!), which proves to be a fun challenge. The other perk of challenging yourself to work harder is that you can get in a great workout in a lot less time, which means less time on the treadmill! So next time, push it on those speed intervals. Try a few sprints. See how long you can maintain a quicker clip. It will all help you pass the minutes and get more accomplished in less time.

6. Break it up.
If you had 100 pounds to lose, you wouldn't wait until you lose all 100 pounds before celebrating would you? No! You'd probably break it up into smaller milestones, and celebrate each one. I do the same thing when I have to hit the treadmill. Instead of dreading a 30-minute treadmill run, which just seems FOREVER long for me to run in one place, I'll break it up into 5-minute increments. Each one I accomplish gets a mini "WooHoo!" and makes me feel like I'm closer to my ultimate goal.

Do any of these tricks work for you? How do you stay entertained and motivated on the treadmill? 

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For me, the biggest tip is find something to listen to. I just discovered a great podcast that I listened to today while getting my three miles in. It made the time fly. When I'm running outside, I listen to music with a beat to keep my pace, but since there is nothing to look at in the gym, and for some reason watching the tvs doesn't help, plugging in the iPod and listening to the podcast was like a conversation with friends, rather than a lonely run with a machine. :) Report
Love the treadmill with a good movie. Report
I like the treadmill when the weather is too severe to make running outside comfortable. It's also a good tool to help change to faster paces, although when you start getting up to 8- 9 mph on the treadmill it feels a little scetchy and one catch on the side will send you crashing or looking a little cluzty. I like the freedom of outdoor running and being able to focus a little less on not tripping on the machine. Report
I am the same in that the treadmill BORES me to tears. I have found with my bad knees, however, it is easier on my joints and allows me to run. Without it I would only be able to run outside once a week. I have found that intervals and little games help me get to my mark and I'm glad I stumbled on something Coach Nicole has deemed great advice as well. I feel validated. :) Report
Love the tips and have tried a few. Getting a friend to do a treadmill workout is the beat. We talk and change it up. Take turns making up the next interval. Confusing the body is always good. Happy treadmill ! The season for great outside runs are almost here.

I place my iPad on the console and watch a show or finish a movie. I won't quit (and I usually don't want to) until it is over. I often find that I end up spending more time on the treadmill than initially planned. Report
Before I had the dog to motivate me to go outside in the winter months (he goes out WHATEVER the weather and we do 30-45 minutes), I used the treadmill every day during the cold or wet seasons. Our treadmill lets me program speed and incline and save the programs. I saved about 4 of these and it really helped to get through the time--although some of those incline stages were HARD to get through. Now when I get a bit bored with the outside walk around the block (all I will venture to do when it is cold and snowy and icy), I will gladly go on the treadmill to mix it up a bit. I also try to read sometimes while walking and listen to music does help. The intervals do keep it mixed up and somewhat fun. Report
I've found that intervals and TV help me pass the time. I don't tend to look at the clock unless it's during one of my 3 minute jog intervals and a commercial comes on! I'd love to be able to read while on the treadmill, but I haven't quite figured out how to make that work. Report
I don't like the treadmill either. I don't know if it's because I have short legs or what, but I always have to hold on to the side bars when I jog or run. I always feel like I am going to slide off! Report
I love the treadmill. I found that I can challenge myself more than I would if I were outside. I also change things up by changing the incline or speed every 5 minutes. I'm competitive with myself so I also try to beat the previous day's calorie burn or mileage. Report
My daughter-in-law got a new treadmill, so the last time I babysat the grandkids I hopped on it and started a good walk. I eventually got bored, so I started skipping. The kids noticed right away. Skipping was pretty hard, so I galloped awhile, and then I also turned sideways too. Eventually I turned backwards and did that for awhile. It was lots of fun, and it was pretty funny. The time went by fast, and I hope I didn't ruin the treadmill! Report
I love walking on treadmill with all of these points!! Interval training, no doubt, gives a boost to one's workout Report
I love the treadmill for so many reasons. I've been using them for years! I do intervals anyway, just because it's such a great workout. I can't read or watch TV, I like to push myself too hard to focus on TV or a book! Outside it is too easy to slow down and take it easy. On the treadmill I push myself much, much harder than I would outside. Also, I've never really gotten bored easily. Guess I just have a simple mind. Report
I watch TV, while I'm on the treadmill, and just keep walking. I like music as well. Report
One way I am sucessful is using music at the gym. I crank it up and toon everyone out and the gym. It make me want rock out. It give me that dancing vibe. So I enjoy it so very much. I have been doing a hour and a half of cardio each time I go. 30 minutes at least on tredmill doing hills setting jogging the whole time. I also do 30 minutes of elliptical crosstrainer setting at a fast pace. Then bike or stairs or both. I notice if it isnt a song I am in the mood for it effects my workout. Report
Would love to have a treadmill for those freezing days when I cannot walk outside. I spend way too much time trying to convince myself that walking in really bad weather is better for me than staying home! Report
There is another group that you forgot to mention.
the ones who want to walk on the treadmill but
forget to when the oppertunity comes. I am in this
group. Report
I've resorted to almost every one of these tips, with the exception of the cheering after 5 minutes. I think I may try that one tonight! I workout on my treadmill at home, so the only "race" I've done is with myself. I will keep track of how far I go, and try and beat that the next time I get on. Some days that comes easier than others. :)

I'm definitely not a treadmill lover, but it has helped me throughout my journey, and I have to give credit where credit is due. Our Canadian East Coast winters make it VERY difficult to run outside, so I am so very thankful for it being there for me, no matter the weather! It's a love-hate relationship we have! ;) Report
I actually prop my laptop up in front of the treadmill and watch a movie or tv episode while I'm walking. It gets me thinking about something else and keeps my mind off the minutes ticking by so slowly. I also like to look at the console and keep an eye on the miles and calories burned...when i'm starting to fade I challenge myself to keep going for ten more calories, or .10 of a mile, and before I know it it's been half an hour and I feel so good about myself. Report
I prefer to run outside but I've grown to "like" the treadmill this winter. I have ran quite a few runs outisde but since I am training with specific target paces and trying to increase my average pace, doing intervals in the treadmill has helped tremendously. I have done my tempo and long runs on the treadmill too but I use music and cover the display. I count songs and only look at 4-5 songs to see how far I've gone. It makes the miles go by faster and easier. I do prefer to run outside so soon I am going ot have to "wean" myself from the treadmill and rely on my garmin to train me on my pace targets. :) Report
I prefer to run outside when it's nice but when it's cold, just give me my treadmill. I have a Nordic Track that has IFit Live so I can get a different downloaded workout developed by Jillian Michaels every day! I love it. Report
I don't know why, but I prefer the elliptical to the treadmill. Walking is boring (I don't run), and I think I burn more calories on the elliptical, while it's slightly more fun (using that term loosely). Even so, I still need to have the TV on to something that can hold my interest for 20-30 minutes. Report
I don't like the treadmill, either. I use my elliptical regularly and prefer it to the treadmill. Report
I am right there with you on this one! I have a post it note covering my timer as well. I reverted back to doing the C25K program from week one just so I didn't have to look at the clock, just followed the chimes! Report
I love my treadmill. I live in WNY and the weather here is always questionable especially between the months of October and April. Plus being the mom of two toddlers, the treadmill gives me the freedom to get my workout in at home and not have to find a sitter for my kids. Plus, my kids see me using it and it encourages them to want to do exercises which in this day in age, I think it's important for children to learn the importance of exercise. I do incorporate interval training into my workout and I find even after the workout is done, I'll manually start it for another 5 minutes or so just to feel like the workout is complete! Report
Thanks for the info! Report
I am in the first category! I have three kids, am a full time student and I plain just don't have time to get four people ready to drive to the gym that's 10 minutes away. I love my treadmill! I do intervals of two minutes brisk walking then sprinting for one minute all on a 4 or higher incline. It works for me. The best part about it is that it's right next to my tv so I put on my episodes of the Biggest Loser and that motivates me to push through my workout. Report
I started doing that last week and I enjoy it. I find that I stay on the treadmill longer and challenge myself to do more. Report
Oh, I HATE the treadmill. I call it the dreadmill! I have found that intervals, covering the display and loud, fast music combined, make it bearable! Spring is coming. Report
I love my treadmill. I roll out of bed, hop on the treadmill, and catch up on some TV show that I recorded earlier in the week. Walking outdoors is my preference, but since I exercise (in the winter) before it gets light outside, I am hesitant to go out in the cold weather when ice patches may not easily be seen. Report
I do all of these; so, I guess it's why I don't mind the treadmill when I have no choice and the weather is yucky! Report
Those are some awsome tips. My problem is not the treadmill. I dont have a treadmill, my problem is the eliptical. I hate the eliptical. I wish I had a treadmill. I am going to use these tips on the elliptical. I have at least a month before it will be warm enough to go outside. Report
I have to do a five minute warmup on the arm ergometer as part of my physical therapy. It's boring, it makes my shoulders ache and I was always sitting across from a medical poster showing the stages of arthritis, but I discovered that counting down with the display helped me feel like I was doing something. Otherwise I sat there and thought about how much I hated the arm ergometer. Report
I usually run on the treadmill because I can take my baby to the gym and I don't have a jogging stroller to run with her outside. I don't love the treadmill but it's OK. I make sure I have some good tunes and something on TV to focus my eyes on. I have been doing the interval thing lately and it really does help. Report
Cannot look at the clock! I also play the game of not allowing myself to peek until after a mile has gone by. I love the race idea and of course the change of pace as you go. Once again Coach Nicole, you've made exercise seem not only fun but normal! Report
When I am forced to use the treadmill at the gym I follow many of your tips. Intervals, faster rate, goal distances in a certain time. There is no mirror to watch my form, though it would be nice to check on my running form occasionally (check posture, etc.). I also work on some of the running drills I have come across in my reading. The treadmills in my gym look down on the weight room and I will sometimes watch those people working out looking for correct form and exercise clues to machines I have not yet tried out.

I would far rather be out running in the park (nice wooded trail) than running on the treadmill. Report
I run on the treadmill a lot because here in VT, you just can't avoid the cold temps, icy conditions, and deep snow that makes running so uncomfortable. I've run outside a few times, but it's just not right for my body in deep winter. Luckily, I can stand the treadmill just because I do, eventually, get into the zone and can just enjoy the act of running. I'd still rather run outdoors where my mind can wander more and there's more to look at (outside, I don't even need music), but the same physiological things happen on the treadmill that happen outdoors, so I can still enjoy my run. Although, I'll admit, on a rougher day, having a new issue of Runner's World in front of me helps... even if reading it while bouncing isn't ideal.... Report
When I used my Aunts treadmill I put a book on tape in and enjoyed the exercise.
Love the elliptical and try to do intervals, but the best anti-boredom weapons for me: audio books and...my imagination. Report
You didn't add what I do! READ! Find a great mystery book and you get so involved in it you lose track of time! Report
I love the treadmill however I need to keep the time coveredwith a towel. If not I can barely run for ten minutes without getting bored Report
They are good tips, I prefer the treadmill and watch tv, I just started walking few months ago. Report
The treadmills at my gym face the windows, so I tend to find something on the other side of the freeway that I fixate on and "run towards". Kind of like a focal point during childbirth hahaha. I also race others without them knowing, do 3 minutes/2 minutes run/walk intervals and I will set the treadmill program to Hills or something to mix it up a bit. I only wish there was a way to program a breeze to hit me every once in a while, that's what I miss most about running outside. Report
How I wish I were young now and could do these activities!!!! A simple walk down the hall at work gives me leg, hip and back pain. If I could overcome those, boy would I be a super runner, walker, whatever. I remember running 50 years ago to get somewhere fast. But I was brought up in a culture that did not know we should be exercising for health. Sad. Report
I prefer to use a treadmill over walking outside. I don't tolerate extremes in temperature-hot or cold, so being able to walk indoors really helps. I read my e-reader which cover the time perfectly without having to worry about book pages changing on their own. I also listen to my iphone music when I read. Always do, even when I'm not on the treadmill. It helps to shut out outside distractions. Report
I use my treadmill just about the entire winter, and this one has been a long one. We've had lots of -20 degree days, snow, ice and wind, so the treadmill makes sense for me to keep my weight down and train for races. You can do just about all your training on the treadmill if you are so inclined. To simulate running outdoors, where you have wind resistance, set your incline at 1 to 1.5%. You can do hill intervals, speed intervals, tempo runs, long runs (although those get boring, but I usually pop in a movie). You can even run downhill. How you might ask. Get a 4X2 piece of wood, set it under the back-end of your treadmill, now use a level to find what angle you are at and use your incline controls to set the incline to where your level shows that it is even. Voila, at that incline you are running on the level, higher than that you are going uphill, lower than that you are going downhill. Just make sure your piece of wood is straight and fits underneath your treadmill crosswise with some sticking out on either end. Happy treadmill running everyone. Report
I'm an outside runner and like Coach Nicole, only use the treadmill when it's icy or storming. Oddly enough, the treadmill gives me shin splints! I have found if I watch t.v., the time seems to go by much quicker than watching the console.
Walking on my treadmill is the only time I get to watch television. I have a problem lower back so sitting is not easy but walking on the tread mill is great. With all the snow here in Maine my trails are not accessible so this is my thing to go to I LOVE MY TREADMILL and my band videos. Pat in Maine. Report
I like interval training when I use the elliptical, I feel like I get more of a workout and it breaks up the monotony. My partner uses your trick of covering the display so I found it interesting to see it as one of your recommendations. He is a runner and resorts to the elliptical when the weather is bad or it is too dark to run safely outside. Report
I invested in a treadmill not long ago, and sometimes I hate it and sometimes I love it...it depends on how I feel that day....but no matter what just seeing it there taunting me gives me the motivation. I'm getting better with each passing week...I do more in 30 min now then 5 weeks ago...I even run for 5 minutes and that is an accomplishment for me. I working on adding more speed and running more minutes in every workout...and I feel I get more out of my workout by walking/running on the treadmill...walking outdoors never got me sweating because I don't walk fast enough...but on the treadmill I set a speed and walk it out. Report
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