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Treadmill Workouts: How to Go the Extra Mile

Working out on a treadmill can be a fun and effective way to stay in shape. And because it's not dependent on weather conditions, it offers you the flexibility of exercising at any time.

"Still, whether you work out on a treadmill at home or at a fitness facility, there's a lot more to it than walking at the same pace for 20 minutes," says Therese Iknoian, M.S.

To get the most out of your workout, Ms. Iknoian suggests you think of it as having these four parts:

  • Warm up. Spend the first 5 to 10 minutes walking at an easy pace, slowly picking it up to a moderate speed toward the end.

  • Work out. Use the next 25 to 45 minutes to do hill-climbing, speed intervals or faster-paced walking or running.

  • Cool down. During the last 5 minutes, slow down to an easy pace and let your heart rate return to its normal, lower rate.

  • Stretch. Finish up by stretching your legs, back and arms.

Speed and incline

According to Ms. Iknoian, learning to use treadmill controls for incline and speed is important for two reasons:

  • To get a better workout. A "better workout" could mean using more muscles, increasing the aerobic intensity or burning more calories, depending on your goals.

  • To make your treadmill workout more fun. Trying different preset programs such as "Fat-Burner" or "Hill-Climber," or coming up with your own variations of speed, incline, distance and time will keep your workouts challenging and more interesting.

Here are some tips for using speed:

  • Start moderately. Try walking or running for 1 to 3 minutes anywhere from 0.5 to 1 mph faster than your normal pace. Then return to a comfortable pace for 1 to 3 minutes.

  • Step it up. As runners become more confident with their speed ability, they can try intervals up to 2 to 3 mph faster than their usual pace. Walkers can do the intervals at the fastest pace they can walk without running.

Here are some tips for using incline:

  • Start low. If you're a beginner, anything more than a 6 percent incline will be difficult and you'll have to lower your speed to walk safely.

  • Try short hills. To get a feel for what you can handle, try hills that are about 2 to 3 minutes long, then lower the incline back down to 0 to 1 percent for 2 to 3 minutes to recover.

Safety essentials

  • Watch your form. Walk naturally with your arms swinging at your sides. "If you have to hang on to the rails to keep up with the belt or if you drift toward the rear of the belt, slow down or reduce the incline," says Ms. Iknoian.

  • Don't get distracted. "To be safe, you have to stay focused on what you're doing," says Ms. Iknoian. "If you need to take care of something or pay attention to something besides exercising, hit the pause or stop button to deal with it before resuming your workout."