The best treadmill workout tips from the experts

Maximize your routine with this trainer-approved program and need-to-know advice.


(Martin Barraud/ Getty Images)

Don’t let cool weather break your stride – just move indoors. Master the treadmill with our expert tips, then hone your skills with our exclusive, inventive workouts.

1. Walk on an incline
You should always set your treadmill incline to one to two. That’s comparable to walking on a flat sidewalk. If it’s set at zero, it’ll be easier than walking outside, because the treadmill’s belt moves beneath you, so you don’t need to push off and propel yourself forward.

2. Change your shoes
“It’s easy to forget how old your shoes are when you only wear them indoors, because they stay clean and always look new,” says Maureen Wilson, owner of Vancouver’s Sweat Co. Workout Studios. If you walk 30 minutes to an hour four or five times a week, you’ll need to replace your shoes every four to six months.

3. Don’t trust the calorie counters
Even after you input your age, sex and weight on a treadmill, you’ll get only a rough estimate of the calories you’ve burned from the readout, says Chris Cluett of Spartan Fitness Equipment in Dartmouth, N.S. And older models may not ask for enough information to give a good estimate. Instead, use the number as a benchmark of your progress, and try to inch it up from week to week.

4. Use the tube
Watching TV to distract yourself? Make sure your treadmill is directly in front of the screen: An off-kilter position can give you a stiff neck or, since your body tends to follow your eyes, throw you off balance. TV’s a great natural timer; break up a brisk-paced walk by using the commercials (20 minutes’ worth each hour!) to increase the intensity or step off for a set of biceps curls, ab crunches and push-ups.

5. Buy the best
If you’re a treadmill addict, you might want to buy one for home. Cluett recommends spending at least $1,200 for a serious machine. Look for a welded-steel frame with at least two horsepower (so it can match your fastest pace and pull your body weight); a walking surface at least 51 cm wide and 140 cm long, to keep you from shortening your stride or tripping; and a machine that’s over 240 pounds. “You want a heavier treadmill because it will feel solid when you walk on it,” says Cluett. In the store, test several while wearing walking shoes, and try all the features, including the incline and speed. Find one that feels comfortable to walk and run on, and avoid noisy machines. Finally, ask about warranties — five years is standard.

Don’t forget Before each workout, walk for three to five minutes at an easy pace (2.5 to 3.5 mph). Do the same after, then stretch your thighs and calves.

Get great results with our trainer-approved treadmill programs:

Endurance booster Cardio challenge Muscle maker
The workout: With the incline set to two, walk for 20 to 30 minutes at a brisk pace (3.5 to 4.5 mph, depending on your fitness level).
The workout:
Set the incline to two. For three minutes, walk at 3.5 to 4.5mph, then increase the speed by 0.5 mph or the incline by one to two levels for two minutes.
The workout: Set your incline to two. Walk at 3.5 to 4.5 mph for five minutes, then increase the incline by one level every two to three minutes for 15 more minutes.
Perfect your form: Bend your arms and pump them at waist height. Make sure to take small to medium sized steps. And focus on lifting your chest, while pulling your navel up and in. Perfect your form: You should be at or near your peak ability, breathing very hard. Repeat three or four more times. To push yourself further, finish by running up and down a staircase. End with lunges: Slow down to 1.5 or 2 mph, and remove the incline. Holding the front rail, lunge forward, alternating legs, for 30 to 60 seconds.
The payoff: You’ll strengthen your core and walk faster and farther. And you’ll have better posture every day. The payoff: Intervals burn calories faster and will make you fitter in less time. The payoff: Incline walking and lunges work your muscles, including your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.

Your perfect week
Monday Endurance booster
Tuesday Rest
Wednesday Cardio challenge
Thursday Rest
Friday Muscle maker
Saturday Cross-train by swimming laps, cycling or doing yoga or pilates
Sunday Rest

*Article originally published October 2010. 

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