May 212009
This? This would change my opinion of using a treadmill.

This? This would change my opinion of using a treadmill.

It’s no secret that I find spending time on the human hamster wheel known as the treadmill approximately as enjoyable as getting repeatedly ganked in PvP, primarily due to an acute conflation of boredom and discomfort (though the repair bills are lower).  However, for some folks, it’s their primary calorie-burning M.O. due to various limitations. Maybe you’re pressed for time, squeezing in your workout on a lunch hour, or before heading to an after-work event, or even, for that curious species known as “morning person” before work. If you live somewhere that the weather makes outdoor exercise hazardous — extreme heat/humidity, sidewalks not getting shoveled, zombie/raptor/ninja infestation — an indoor option might be the only solution for part of the year.

Heck, some people enjoy treadmill workouts. Mike does his minutes and mileage just about every day (and sometimes twice a day; I suspect he’s doing my share of time on the belt in addition to his own).

The following ideas might help you make pedometer purgatory palatable if it’s getting a little stale.

Max Factor

Knowing how fast your heart should be going is one of the first things you’ll need to tailor your workout intensity. Fortunately, even for math-averse folks like Rob, this is pretty simple — just subtract your age from 220 to determine what your maximum heart rate should be in beats per minute.  If you’re 20, that makes it 200; if you’re 37 (I’m not old!), you’re looking to top out at 183.  Depending on how hard you’re working, you’ll fall into a variety of zones — from about 55-75% of your max is the fat-burning zone, 75-90% works your cardio, and 90%+ is for us masochists. A lot of cardio equipment does this calculation for you, and can even synch up with your own heart rate monitor, if you’ve got one.

Armed with this info, rather than do your usual stroll, try to keep your heart rate at 60%, 70%, and 80% for pre-determined intervals, with suitable recovery intervals in between.  Think of those as increasingly difficult boss fights, and your recovery phases as killing trash mobs.

Run to the Hilllllllls! </Iron Maiden>

Instead of just engaging your internal cruise control and zoming out for X time or Y distance, see about gradually ramping up the intensity (literally).  Set the speed to something around a brisk walk (3.5-4.0 MPH) and do a few minutes at no incline, and, every couple of minutes, ratchet the incline up one notch (half a degree, a full degree, whatever) until you hit your time or distance goal.  You can also do this up to a pre-determined incline (say, five percent for five minutes) and then start turning the incline back down the same way you turned it up. Don’t forget to cool down afterward!

Random Encounters

If you’d rather shake things up a little bit instead of going with the first suggestion up above, and you tend to put in your treadmill time in front of Ye Olde Boobe Toobe, bust out the can of Whoopass during the commercials — jack up the speed and/or incline to drown out Billy Mays or the Travelocity Gnome — and then return to your regularly scheduled program.

I won’t tell anyone you’re watching Enterprise instead of DS:9 if you don’t give me grief for flipping back and forth between the NHL playoffs and The Princess Bride.  Deal?

More Heavy Metal

Pressed for time? Grab a couple of light hand weights (keep it under a Laptop’s worth per hand) and do curls and overhead (military) presses in time with your stride.  Not only will this tone up your arms, but by engaging your upper body, you’ll bost your cardio load quite a bit. Plus, you’ll tone up your arms and shoulders as well as your legs, all at the same time. This is the same reason why you shouldn’t get in the habit of holding onto the railing or cross-beam on the treadmill, either; letting your arms move and swing naturally also keeps you from “cheating” by using the bar for support.

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  10 Responses to “Tackling Treadmill Tedium”

  1. Dude….

    the Karvonen formula (or similar), is NOT a good way to calculate max heart rate. It’s accurate on a population basis, but there’s way too much variety between individuals for any person to rely on the formula as a means of establishing training zones.

    By that formula, my max HR is supposedly 185. I assure you, it’s much higher, and generally peaks in the mid-190s during short races. Were I to train on the assumption that my max HR was 185, I’d never get anywhere.

    Best way to establish max HR is to run a 5K race at maximum effort.

    If you haven’t determined your own max HR, then better to work off of perceived exertion.

  2. You do raise a good point, that folks should a) listen to their bodies, and b) customize their heart rate zones accordingly. I know that my own Max HR is something completely ridiculous, but doesn’t occur during strenuous exercise (doing home improvement projects or computer repairs, my HR will bop along at 220 for hours on end; by comparison, my pulse during the 15k race was in the 165-170 range).

    I hadn’t heard the Karvonen formula get a thorough smack-down as a general rule of thumb for folks who are newer to the fitness gig previously.

  3. “Maximum heart rate (MHR) can be predicted using a formula but the variation in actual MHR of 95% of individuals of a given age will lie within a range of ±20 beats/minute” [Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2007; 39(5):822-829]

    How are you measuring your HR during those 220 BPM sessions? If your HR is truly that high during relatively non-strenuous times, then that’s a BIG trouble sign, and you need to be getting to a doctor pretty quick. You should only be hitting your max HR during all out effort, and you start hurting pretty badly once you get within 10-15 BPM of it.

  4. Thanks for the cite. Folks, Cris is a smart cookie who can run circles around all of us. Simultaneously. She knows what she’s talking about. 🙂


    I’m tracking my pulse with a Polar HRM (strapped around my chest, wristwatch reporting); the last time it happened (while I was putting up the small storage shed in my yard), I was giving play-by-play to a friend who’s an RN, and she was initially just as concerned, until I pointed out that it pretty much drops back under 100bpm within about five minutes of putting the screwdriver down.

    It’s gotta be the weirdest case of tachycardia going – happens as soon as I pop open a computer case to swap video cards or grab a hammer and start driving nails. No chest pain, lightheadedness, or any of it. Resting heart rate still in the low 50’s, BP low normal (114/70).

  5. I wish I lived closer, so I could lend you my Garmin, and we could figure out whether it was something screwing up your monitor (electrical fields can interfere with monitors, which could maybe explain some of it).

    If it’s not a heart rate monitor issue, then there’s some sort of arythmia that needs to get checked out stat.

  6. I’m pretty sure I’ve got a freak ticker; I get occasional 210+ spikes on easy elliptical sessions for a few seconds, too (the arythmia is a known issue, going back to when I was a kid; it’s typically very short-lived).

    The prevailing wisdom at the moment is that my BP drops through the floor when it remains elevated this long.

  7. I’ve heard good things about interval training (cardio). Any more thoughts on that?

  8. Interval stuff is good. The “Random Encounters” in addition to being conveniently named, are along this line — basically, anything that has you pushing yourself hard, then recovering, and repeating the process can be considered an interval.

    Short and evil version is the Tabata – 20 seconds of max effort, 10 seconds of recovery, repeat four times. Do a couple of these and have a mop and bucket handy.

    High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is similar, if somewhat less intense than Tabatas, but still definitely not the sort of thing you want to jump into your second week off the couch or anything.

  9. […] a particular workout routine that really resonates with us, or just puts us off. My antipathy for treadmills is no secret.  Mike, on the other hand, has no such misgivings. Fortunately, this means […]

  10. […] workouts [to do] while traveling. Something 30-60 minutes, but whole body, not just hopping on a treadmill or jogging around the hotel. And, obviously, [I might only have access to] zero […]

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