Editor’s Note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.
Walking has long been lauded as one of the best exercises for overall health. This physical activity can strengthen your heart, lower blood pressure, keep your bones strong and burn calories. When done outside, you reap the additional benefits that come from spending time in nature, such as lower levels of stress, improved attention and a better mood.
It’s not always possible to take your daily constitutional alfresco though. When the weather or other factors drive you indoors, consider a treadmill workout instead.
Treadmills are among the top three most popular pieces of equipment at US health clubs, according to the 2022 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report. Some 53 million people were using them in 2017, and the US treadmill manufacturing industry grew 2.3% annually on average between 2018 and 2023, industry market research group IBISWorld reports.
Before you hop on a treadmill and begin walking at your preferred pace, however, consider a workout where you change both the pace and incline, which can result in a much more productive session.
“Most people do not think about utilizing the treadmill’s incline feature,” said Dan Bulay, a certified personal trainer and co-owner of the District Training Facility in Livingston, New Jersey. “But most research will support the idea that the metabolic cost of walking on an incline will dramatically increase the difficulty of the workout.”
Creating a steeper trek is also an option if you have trouble increasing your walking speed or segueing from walking to running, Bulay said.
For those who can vary both their walking speed and the treadmill incline, fitness experts recommend some type of interval training, which involves repeatedly switching the intensity of your workout and/or the activities you’re doing.
There are innumerable interval workouts available online and on fitness apps, said Gillian Dalby, vice president of fitness at CAZ Training Club in Newport Beach, California. If you find the options too daunting to ponder, she offered two easy possibilities.
First: Get on a treadmill and alternate one minute of walking, one minute of jogging and one minute of running for a total of 18 minutes. “This keeps your mind busy, it doesn’t feel monotonous, and it’s an incredible way to build endurance and speed,” Dalby said.
Second: Walk for one minute with no incline, one minute at a 4% incline and one minute at 8%, then repeat this sequence five times. If either workout is easy, double the time to 36 minutes or do both back-to-back.
“The goal is to feel comfortable on the tread, and then you can play with speed and incline together as you continue to advance,” Dalby said.
If you prefer something trendy, two treadmill workouts that went viral on TikTok are the “Taylor Swift Treadmill Strut” and the 12-3-30 workout.
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The 37-minute “Taylor Swift Treadmill Strut” requires you to walk to the beat of 10 Taylor Swift songs. It was created by Allie Bennett, a TikTok influencer known for setting treadmill workouts to popular music.
The beat of the first song should be similar to a walking pace around 3.4 miles per hour. From there, the tempo increases in each of the next six songs, requiring you to increase your speed by 0.1 miles per hour per song. Tunes eight and nine are much faster. You may need to start running to match the beat, although you can remain at a fast walk. The finale, song 10, serves as your cooldown and is the slowest of the group.
“I’m a big fan of the Taylor Swift strut,” Bulay said. “The general public can do this workout without a lot of training experience, and it’s also entertaining enough to keep most people consistent and engaged through its duration.”
The 12-3-30 workout, created by TikTok influencer Lauren Giraldo, uses incline to increase your fitness and drop pounds. The 30-minute workout is simple: Set your treadmill to a 12% incline and the speed to 3 miles per hour, then go. An easier version geared toward beginners calls for the first 15 minutes at a 2.5% incline and the second 15 minutes at an 8.5% incline.
“The 12-3-30 workout is a fantastic workout as well,” Bulay said. “Walking at a high incline at a low intensity has been a staple in the bodybuilding community for decades.”
This training style is known as low-intensity steady-state, or LISS, Bulay said. It’s great for those looking to burn a lot of calories while avoiding the pounding and strain that come with high-impact workouts such as running, tennis and basketball.
Not into a set workout? Then try walking on a nonmotorized, curved treadmill. These novel treadmills are powered by your own two feet, and their curved shape equates to walking on an incline of about 6% to 8%.
People walking on curved, nonmotorized treadmills had significantly higher heart rates and oxygen uptake variables compared with those using motorized treadmills, according to a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Similarly, one study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology showed running on these treadmills provides a notably higher cardiometabolic stress rate compared with using a motorized treadmill or running on the ground.
“If your gym has both kinds of treadmills, try both out,” Dalby said. “At the end of the day, what will keep you consistent with your workouts and stay enjoyable? The more fun you have working out and finding ways to challenge yourself, the more likely you are to continue your fitness journey.”