You’re at the gym and you spot a vacant treadmill—score! You hop on, choose your desired speed and, as the conveyor belt starts moving, you start to run (or walk). Though you may believe this machine is nothing but the human equivalent of a hamster wheel, it’s actually a lot more complex. And knowing how to properly exercise on a treadmill can lead to better body gains.
Before you get too comfortable with your treadmill routine, know that using this machine should not be a mindless activity. To reduce your risk of injury—and the chance that your body will plateau—learn these five do’s and don’ts of running (or walking) on the treadmill.
1. DON’T run on autopilot
Doing the same workout on the treadmill day after day will become a mindless task that your body will adapt to. This is less efficient for your muscles and you will burn less calories as a result. This also causes your mind to drift and become easily distracted by the TV or people around you.
DO be present during your workout
Focus on your breathing, stride and form. It’s also a good idea to change up your workout every week or so. First, increase the length of your workout for a week. For the following week, try increasing the intensity using inclines. Follow up by incorporating high-intensity interval training with running and walking the next week. Changing things up periodically will keep you focused and give your body a new challenge.
2. DON’T stomp your feet
Landing hard on your feet or running flat-footed is bad for both feet and legs, which can result in muscle strain. Stomping your feet down may also cause you to lean backward, straining your back muscles and throwing off your balance.
DO concentrate on each step
Land on the ball of the foot or midfoot—not the heel or entire foot at one time. Stay as upright as you can while running or walking as you normally would in the middle of the treadmill.
3. DON’T make your stride too long
Over-striding and stretching your legs out too far causes your body weight to land in front, which is terrible for your knees and uses a lot of extra energy. This may also cause you to lose form, resulting in a less-efficient workout.
DO as you would outside
Walk and run as naturally as you do outside—there’s no need to overthink your stride just because you’re inside. When running, barely lift your feet off the ground and try to keep a pace of about 15 steps for every 10 seconds. While walking, use a natural gait.
4. DON’T hunch
Leaning or hunching too far forward means your body is working harder to keep its balance, which can lead to injury such as lower back pain. Poor posture can even hinder your body’s ability to consume sufficient oxygen while exercising.
DO maintain alignment
Keep your posture upright, strong and your core muscles engaged. Your chin should be parallel to the ground and head and hips in line with your spine. If you find you’re having trouble maintaining good posture, try slowing your speed.
5. DON’T wear the wrong shoes
Zumba sneakers or tennis shoes may be cute, but they are not the same as shoes designed specifically for walking or running. Wearing kicks with a high arch or no support on the treadmill can stress your joints and quickly lead to injury.
DO choose function over fashion
Look for athletic shoes made for high-impact running and walking (and trust me, there are a lot of attractive options out there). A shoe with extra padding in the soles helps to protect foot bones and heels. Use these shoes only for your treadmill workouts, and they will last long keeping your feet supported and comfortable.