Weather is iffy at this time of year—cold on some days, rainy on others. If you can’t go outside to run or play and get your heart rate up, get to a treadmill. When you know how to use it, a treadmill can provide a terrific and very different workout.
First, forget just moving forward the way most people use a treadmill. Yes, it can be good cardio, but you’re only moving your legs forward—a limited range of motion. When you play a sport like basketball or baseball or Frisbee, you lean and move in different directions. Your thigh bones (femurs) roll around in your hip joints, and your spine curves and flexes. You instinctively learn to balance your body at different angles. It makes you more athletic and surefooted, which is a good thing right now since the slick surfaces of winter are coming up soon. Here’s how to use a treadmill to get a workout that’s as good as an active day in the park.
First, push the “incline” button as high as it will go. This simulates a hill, which adds extra oomph to your workout. Start with a slow speed until you get used to the different moves you’ll be making on the moving belt.
Walk forward for a minute or two, then put your feet on the narrow platforms on each side of the belt. Holding on to the hand rails, carefully turn around so that you’re now standing backwards, with your feet on each side of the belt. Still holding the rails, lift one foot and use it to “dab” the moving belt to get the feel of walking backwards on the treadmill. Then step on the belt with both feet.
Using a treadmill to walk backwards up an incline works a totally different set of muscles than walking forward. It uses more of the glutes, spinal erectors (lower back) and hamstrings (back of the thigh). It’s also a great way to get in shape for ski season, since it requires the toe-toheel movement of a ski turn, rather than the “heel-first” foot placement of regular walking or running. The incline makes it even more ski-specific.
After you’ve practiced backward walking until you’re comfortable with it, push the speed up a little, then a little more.
When you’re OK walking backward on the treadmill as fast as you walk forward, it’s time for “The Grapevine.”
Grapevine is an exercise used by football players to build agility. It’s like sideways running: The right foot is crossed over in front of the left foot, the left foot is brought out to the side, then the right foot is crossed behind the left foot. This is done for a specific distance or time, then the direction is reversed, so that the left foot is crossed over the right foot, and the exercise repeated.
Lower the speed of the treadmill, and practice sideways stepping, or Grapevine, in both directions until it feels easy. Gradually increase the speed of the belt so your “stepping” is more like running. Pop off from the belt with each step so you get some spring in your stance, almost like skipping.
Now, it’s time to put the whole sequence together. Lower the speed again, then practice walking forward for one minute, turning sideways and doing grapevine for one minute, turning backwards for one minute, then turning to the other side for grapevine in the other direction for one minute, all without stopping. Increase the speed a little and do the sequence again.
As you practice, you’ll get more surefooted and be able to do the sequence faster. Each four-minute sequence is one rep. Do three reps, and get a total lower body workout in just 12 minutes—complete with excellent training for balance, agility and coordination.