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5 Ways to Boost Your Treadmill Workout

According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, treadmills are the most popular gym equipment in the United States. It’s no wonder: Treadmills are a great way to get fit—and you never have to worry about bad weather, dimly lit streets or busy roads without sidewalks. Since most educators put in 10 hours or more daily, it can be tough to find time to walk or run outdoors during daylight hours. The only downside to your treadmill routine is that, well, it can get a little routine.

Unfortunately, sticking with the same workout day in and day out eventually brings diminishing returns. You have to challenge your muscles (heart included) to continue reaping the benefits. Here, 5 ways to boost your burn and get even fitter—no fancy footwork required.

Don’t coast. Walking or running on a treadmill is easier than doing it outdoors. The reason: You don’t have to fight wind or air resistance to move forward, says exercise physiologist Therese Iknoian, M.S., author of Fitness Walking and founder of TotalFitnessNetwork.com. According to Iknoian, a 1% incline is needed to match the efforts of jogging on an outdoor track. If your treadmill’s slope is set to 0%, you’re practically gliding downhill. Simulate the great outdoors by clicking your elevation up a notch or by increasing your speed by about 0.1 to 0.3 miles per hour.

Ramp up your workout. To get even more out of your treadmill time, turn your walk or run into a climb. Researchers at the University of Georgia found that uphill running activates 9% more muscle per stride compared with running at the same relative exertion on flat terrain. The areas that get worked more during ascents: the buttocks and the backs of your thighs. Because hill work demands more oxygen, it will boost your cardiovascular fitness, as well. Plus, says Harley Pasternak, M.Sc., bestselling author of 5 Factor Diet and co-host of the soon-to-debut TV series The Revolution on ABC, running and walking uphill actually takes pressure off the knees, so for people with injuries or arthritis, increasing the incline is safer than upping your speed.

Step it up with intervals. Want to see results without logging serious hours at the gym? The quickest way to get fit is not by running as fast as you can for as long as you can. Instead, try interval training, where you alternate between moderate- and high-intensity paces. Researchers at McMaster University found that switching between one-minute sprints and one-minute moderate-intensity recovery periods for 20 minutes 3 times a week was equivalent to several hours of working out at a single moderate pace. If that’s too intense for you, try this modified version: Walk or jog at your usual, comfortable pace. Every 4 minutes, go all out for 30 seconds. That could mean hill work, sprinting or speed walking; whatever you choose, you should be working out at or near your maximum effort. Thirty minutes of this kind of training will earn you the same cardiovascular benefits as 90 minutes of steady, moderate exercise.

Don’t push so hard. It sounds counterintuitive, we know. But, pushing too hard too soon is the number-one reason people quit working out. If you prefer your workouts to be more tortoise- than hare-like, that’s okay, says Pasternak. “I tell my clients that cardio should be either enjoyable or meditative,” he says. “You’ll get more out of your workout if, instead of focusing on burning two percent more calories, you find something that you can do every day with maximal enjoyment.” All-out screaming boot-camp style workouts are exhausting and not sustainable, explains Pasternak. Since you’ll get the biggest results from the workout that you stick with, he recommends zoning out to your favorite TV shows, iPod tunes or magazines. Or, find a gym buddy who you can talk to during your workout. Distracting yourself with conversation or good music can make your workout feel easier and go by more quickly.

Don’t hold on for dear life. You’ve likely seen them at the gym: people who crank the incline to the max and then clutch the treadmill with a death grip. While it may look like a hardcore hike, holding on negates all the benefits, says Pasternak, who compares it to being towed up a mountain with a rope. You might as well be walking on level ground. Though no studies have been done, Iknoian estimates that you could lose about 50% of your calorie burn by leaning on or clinging to the console. If you need to hold on for balance or support, rest your hands lightly on the handles.

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