6 Secrets to Take the Dread Out of the Treadmill


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
3/2/2011 6:00 AM   :  133 comments   :  129,474 Views

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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  • 83
    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. - 3/3/2011   9:56:22 AM
    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. - 3/3/2011   9:51:21 AM
  • 81
    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. - 3/3/2011   9:39:46 AM
    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. - 3/3/2011   9:36:32 AM
    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! - 3/3/2011   9:34:07 AM
  • 78
    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. - 3/3/2011   9:20:36 AM
  • 77
    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. - 3/3/2011   8:03:12 AM
  • 76
    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. - 3/3/2011   7:42:47 AM
  • 75
    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! - 3/3/2011   6:34:48 AM
  • 74
    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. - 3/3/2011   6:34:39 AM
  • 73
    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.... - 3/3/2011   6:16:44 AM
  • 72
    When I used my Aunts treadmill I put a book on tape in and enjoyed the exercise.
    - 3/3/2011   6:02:33 AM
  • 71
    Love the elliptical and try to do intervals, but the best anti-boredom weapons for me: audio books and...my imagination. - 3/3/2011   5:16:11 AM
  • LWORLEY416
    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! - 3/3/2011   2:28:36 AM
    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 - 3/3/2011   1:50:26 AM
  • 68
    They are good tips, I prefer the treadmill and watch tv, I just started walking few months ago. - 3/2/2011   11:52:36 PM
  • 67
    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. - 3/2/2011   11:39:30 PM
  • 66
    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. - 3/2/2011   11:26:20 PM
  • 65
    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. - 3/2/2011   11:14:10 PM
    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. - 3/2/2011   11:12:18 PM
  • 63
    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.
    - 3/2/2011   11:05:15 PM
  • 62
    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. - 3/2/2011   10:20:47 PM
  • 61
    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. - 3/2/2011   9:59:30 PM
  • 60
    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. - 3/2/2011   9:14:25 PM
  • 59
    I am one of the few who loves working out on the treadmill. I have enjoyed mixing things up with different programs and intervals, but you have given me other strategies to try to keep it interesting. The best part is seeing the number of calories burned at the end. - 3/2/2011   9:06:55 PM
  • 58
    I find that 5 minute circuits on both the treadmill or elliptical really does make time pass more quickly . I also listen to audio books or sometimes read on my ipad as I can adjust the font size to see it while moving. Thanks for the blog... great tips! - 3/2/2011   8:23:33 PM
  • 57
    i have an overwhelming fear of falling off the treadmill. i guess i've watched too many youtube videos! - 3/2/2011   8:10:55 PM
  • 56
    I really love running. I have never owned a treadmill until recently purchasing one a couple months ago and I use it faithfully. I find the intervals really help (I'm currently doing the C25K program) and I have always loved a quick beat to keep my speed to. I find that if I can get in the rhythm with the beat, I kind of zone out and don't think about the time as much. It has been a long time since I have jogged/ran and I am excited to finish the C25K program just in time for it to be warming up outside so I can run outside because I too prefer to be outdoors, but I don't mind the treadmill either. I am not a huge fan of the cold (SUMMER BABY!!) so the treadmill is my preference during the cold winters. - 3/2/2011   8:09:01 PM
  • 55
    Great Tips/
    - 3/2/2011   7:52:06 PM
    These are great tips for the treadmill. I get into these phases where I love the treadmill then I am out of love, then I love walking outdoors then I am out of love so varying the two with music that moves or praying for others helps pass time quickly - 3/2/2011   7:06:51 PM
    I will download a really good book to my mp3 player and "treat" myself to a good strong workout on the treadmill or elliptical. I had a coach tell me once to pick a random hill circuit and pump up the elevations so that I could just barely finish 1 minute on the "highest" hill. Same idea with the speed. I am usually so excited to read my book - that I'll climb over any hill to have the opportunity to listen to it. I always feel like it's a reward and then I feel great about my workout when I'm done too. - 3/2/2011   6:52:28 PM
  • 52
    TREADMILL VS WALKING DVD? DVD, IT IS!! - 3/2/2011   6:22:58 PM
  • 51
    I do this on the elliptical also. I hate the treadmill but so far I love the elliptical. I also like the stationary bike but have found since getting the elliptical it is kind of boring. - 3/2/2011   6:15:48 PM
  • 50
    I do this sort of 'distraction therapy' for the elliptical trainer. It helps me get through the 'burn' stage of exercising, when my legs are aching and I want to give up. I tend to use different rythmes of music to alter my pace and tha works really well. I close my eyes and let my imagination take me somewhere else too. I imagine myself running or cycling outside in the sunshine with beautiful countryside all around.- it's great therapy - a little bit of Yoga with the cardio workout thrown in for good measure ha ha! - 3/2/2011   5:43:24 PM
  • 49
    I purchased the very best treadmill I could afford at the time. It has variable programs that give me different workouts with the option of changing the parameters as I go so I've never really been bored on mine. I also watch TV, usually how-to or cooking shows or listen to really spirited music to get my giddy up going. Love my treadmill - can't jog on pavement as I develop shin splints on hard surfaces. - 3/2/2011   4:29:20 PM
  • 48
    I had to rename my treadmill from what I used to call it - Dreadmill - to a more positive name to get over my dread of being on it. I now call it my Indoor Walking Path and that helps. My other success on it comes from the Interval workouts mentioned here. I am now on week 5 of the C25K workout plan and that is helping me to be able to stick with working out on my treadmill. - 3/2/2011   4:22:11 PM
  • 47
    This made me laugh; thank you- so reminded me of me. although i bought a really awesome treadmill it was even hard to motivate myself no matter what at home. then it seemed like it didn't work- we were going to toss it but my boyfriend's ex-wife was interested...now of course it works for her- talk @ an expensive parting gift , haha. but seriously i DO the intervals on the TM at the gym- i literally have to take it minute by minute or my mind makes me quit before my body wants to. - 3/2/2011   4:18:13 PM
  • 46
    Most of these tips work for me! I add music to my work out though because it really does help keep me pumped. - 3/2/2011   4:13:32 PM
  • 45
    I adore my treadmill!! In fact is in my garage right now as my basement is being sheetrocked and I miss the darn thing like no other!! I have 5 kids and I love just running downstairs to workout! I just turn on a good book on my mp3 player and enjoy some intervals! My kids can find me if they need but they aren't under my feet like when I do a dvd(which is every day while my basement is worked on). I LOVE MY TREADMILL!!! - 3/2/2011   3:30:30 PM
  • 44
    Huh. I adore a treadmill, & wish we still had one (would if I could afford it). I used it faithfully. To me, time went faster than outside, & I could multi-task: tv, books, music. Tired? Just get off without having to worry about how far it is back home. Dark out? No problem.
    Maybe I'm a weather wimp, but I'd a lot rather use a treadmill than exercise outdoors, at least the majority of the year! - 3/2/2011   3:24:48 PM
  • 43
    I prefer the bikes but don't mind the treadmill since I'm preparing for a 5k walk. I do intervals and enjoy watching others working with weights. Since walking on the treadmill isn't as challenging as walking outside, I increase the incline to one or more. - 3/2/2011   3:16:34 PM
  • JUNEBUG616
    "A watched pot never boils, and a watched treadmill clock never ticks"

    hehe I love that line, SO TRUE - 3/2/2011   3:15:03 PM
  • 41
    Yes to everything you say! I find I cannot do the treadmill or stationary bike for more than 10 minutes without doing intervals. I'm training for a half-marathon, so I'm doing my speed work on a treadmill for a number of reasons: easier calculations, too dark to run on the local high school track, & gives my joints a break while I'm ramping up the mileage each week. - 3/2/2011   3:14:39 PM
  • 40
    I share your lack of enthusiasm for the treadmill, unfortunately I have recently moved and I've been forced to log quite a few treadmill miles lately due to the weather. I've tried a lot of different ways to motivate myself and one of my favorite ways is to incorporate light weights (2-5 lbs depending upon the exercise) and do upper body strength training exercises during the walking segment of my intervals. For example: I jog for 2 minutes, sprint for 1 minute, then walk 2 minutes while doing 1-2 sets each of overhead presses, biceps curls and triceps extensions. PLEASE NOTE: Not everyone is at the same fitness level. You should feel comfortable with your balance and coordination before trying this exercise. My best advice, as with everything, safety first! Go at your own pace...you are a unique and amazing, one of a kind person. - 3/2/2011   2:25:10 PM
  • 39
    Love this blog! I do all of these things when I'm at the gym. I get better workouts at the gym actually, then when I go on my at home elliptical. - 3/2/2011   2:14:27 PM
  • 38
    Please, please, PLEASE follow the safety rules and wear sturdy shoes. I lost my little toe to my treadmill a couple of years ago. NOT fun. - 3/2/2011   1:59:06 PM
  • 37
    MINNA72, you sound to extreme for me. Running outside on ICE or in a storm doesn't sound sensible at all. I have seen to many falls on ICE from people just trying to WALK on it. One friend broke his leg and another fell & broke her wrist so she had to have three surgeries. NO, I'll stay inside on a treadmill. - 3/2/2011   1:28:29 PM
  • 36
    I don't really mind the treadmill, but I do cover up the clock, I do intervals and I definitely have my Ipod and lots of music or the radio (if I get so bored with the playlist during my workout!) GREAT TIPS!!! - 3/2/2011   1:22:38 PM
  • 35
    I must admit that as long as I'm running and have my music, I really don't mind either the treadmill or outdoors. Although I certainly have a preference for the treadmill during our Canadian winters. I admire the people who bundle up and hit the streets, but I'm a pretty pathetic fair-weather outdoor jogger! - 3/2/2011   1:09:55 PM
  • 34
    I put a home decorating magazine over the clocks (on a page with a really attractive scene). I listen to upbeat music and imagine I am running to my dream truck! I envision I am running to my dream truck and if I make it there within the allotted time it is MINE. :D It is pretty motivating. When I have completed my time I am so high from my endorphins kicking in I am so proud of myself and not really having the truck doesn't bother me. Thanks for sharing your tips! All have been really helpful! - 3/2/2011   1:08:20 PM

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