For the purpose of weight reduction, exercise certainly aids the process of burning fat with the additional benefit of promoting one's general health and fitness. There are a myriad of ways of achieving the aforementioned but not all are practical for various reasons, weather being one.
For decades now, treadmills have been the undisputed ruler of weight loss machines. This is despite the fact that newer, fancier, but not necessarily better machines for weight loss have emerged. Owing to the ease of use and versatility of the machine, some people have even become addicted to them.
Furthermore, they are a ‘fit all sizes’ wonder machines that not only help weight loss but also aid in rehabilitation. They offer numerous advantages for those wanting to lose weight. However, some fitness pros over the years have expressed concerns over the possible injury potential of treadmills.
But before we go into the details, let us get to know a bit more about their history and development as an efficient fat burning tool. A check list for buying one of these wonder machines is also given later on.
The novel idea of use of these machines for humans to exercise is credited to Dr Robert A. Bruce. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Dr Bruce conducted tests on human subjects using treadmill belts. The tests were designed to measure heart and lung function in normal individuals and to diagnose cardiopulmonary diseases. These tests later developed into the ‘Stress Test’ and the ‘Bruce Protocol’. This was the first documented use of a treadmill in human beings.
However, strictly speaking, they have been around since the 19th century. Previously, they were used (with the help of animals) to accomplish a number of tasks associated with farming like drawing water from wells and for threshing grains. In the first half of the 20th century, they were used in factories in the form of conveyor belts for the purpose of moving parts around. Also, treadmills have been and are still being used in experimental animals to test the effects of various drugs on cardiovascular and pulmonary systems.
In the earlier part of the 20th century, not much exercise equipment for losing weight was available. As iit became apparent, in the later part of the century, that in order to burn fat you had to exercise your cardio-pulmonary system regularly, it was then that the popularity of treadmills began to soar.
Since the early 80s, numerous trainers and celebrities have promoted various weight loss routines. Jane Fonda, in particular, revolutionized the way aerobic exercises are designed and promoted. More recently, aerobic activities like ‘Zumba’ and ‘Kick Boxing’ have become quite popular, especially amongst women. Also, with personal trainers taking their businesses to the internet, weight loss programs ‘come a dime a dozen’ these days. In spite of this trend, these machines continue to rule the roost as far as weight loss is concerned.
Rarely will you see a fitness facility without a treadmill. What’s more, its effectiveness has made many people buy one for their personal use! Furthermore, there has inspired a whole new generation of ‘weight loss machinery’: bikes, steppers, elliptical trainers and rowers.
Advantages for Training
Treadmills offer a number of advantages for exercisers. Some of these are:
- Easy to use
- Versatile; can be used by people with different fitness goals
- An affordable and feature packed cheap electric treadmill helps keep you active during the cold winter months.
- Ideal for the untrained individual: easier to tackle as compared to outdoor running (even surface with no twists and turns, lesser risk of a fall)
- Ideal for those too conscious to run outdoors
- Walking or running on a treadmill is more functional than exercising on elliptical trainers or bikes and as such comes naturally to most
- Supplies data to compare training sessions and monitor progress
In addition to these obvious advantages, there are certain added benefits for those individuals with specific training needs.
Weight Loss Training
When using the machine for the purpose of weight reduction or a part of a weight loss program, it is important to seek out a recommended routine by a qualified trainer, or someone recommended by ones doctor. Many factors will determine the amount, duration and type of exercise based on one’s general health and age.
Most exercise routines consist of a warm-up period followed by varying walking or running speeds, occasional sprints raise one’s heart rate and are a fundamental component of fitness training. To finish wind down with a cool down routine at the end of the exercise routine. Modern machines offer a range of electronic readouts that record distance, speed, heart rate and much more.
Treadmills have been used by almost everyone wanting to lose weight. So much so that they have become synonymous with ‘weight loss’. However, spending long hours on the machine is not always the best option. Used in combination with weights may be the quickest and best way to lose weight. Given below are a couple of training routines that you may find useful.
Sprint-jog interval training
Depending on fitness goals, interval training can be modified to suite everyone. Most popular of the interval trainings is the sprint-jog interval training. This kind of training will reduce training time and burn far more calories than 45 minutes of slow, long duration cardio. For this routine, you jog at a certain speed for a fixed time (say 4 minutes) and then sprint at a higher speed for another fixed period of time (example, a minute). This cycle can be repeated any number of times (intervals). After a few sessions, you can either:
- increase the speeds of both the jog and sprint phase
- increase sprint time and decrease the jog time
- increase the number of intervals
- Resistance training combo:
This involves running on the machine for a pre-determined period of time (say 5 minutes), doing a set or 2 of compound barbell exercises (like squats, shoulder press or bench press) and getting back to the treadmill. Continue doing this till you complete the whole set of exercises for that day.
Finish off with some abdominal work. This way, in addition to your aerobic system, you will also be working out your musculoskeletal system, thus, effectively burning more calories throughout the day.
Long distance running
The effectiveness of supplemental “on machine” training in cross country running has been proven conclusively as an alternative training option, especially if you experience bad weather frequently. Also, it is sometimes a nightmare to carry chest straps, fitness monitors, fluids and ‘what have you’ when you run outdoors.
In these situations, the best solution is to use one of the best treadmills for runners where the stride length can be worked upon more efficiently than running outdoors. In addition to these benefits, the immense data collected and variety of programs that a modern affordable treadmill offers can be effectively used to monitor progress. If you are training to run the marathon, please bear in mind the following points before buying a machine:
- Make sure that even with the smallest treadmill it should have a long platform.
- it should have a strong frame which can take some beating
- it should have numerous setting options so you can design training sessions to suit your needs
- it should record data so that you can monitor your progress
Myths about Injury Potential
Over the years, both sports medicine and fitness professionals have expressed concerns over risks of injuries posed by using running machines, especially during long term use. However, a closer look at these problems suggests that most of the fears are unfounded. Here are some of the ‘alleged problems’ associated with long term use:
Running can cause jarring of the joints, especially the knee and ankle joints; over time can cause a variety of problems: shin splints, knee, ankle and lower back injuries. However, a closer look will identify the role of substandard equipment and footwear. Improper running style and bad posture can further compound the problems. These can be avoided by adopting the following measures:
- Use a good quality machine
- Use good quality trainers that are well fitting and have a cushioned sole
- Improve running style and posture
- Vary intensity of training to break the monotony of impact
- Include other aerobic activities in your program like swimming rather than using the machine every single day
Some fitness experts have proposed that running on a machine is different from running outdoors. In outdoor running, hamstrings (muscles at the back of your thigh) do the work of lifting your feet and pushing them back towards your glutes (bums). On the running machine however, majority of this is done by the momentum of the treadmill belt pushing your feet back. Thus, the hamstrings are not exercised enough. As a result, the quadriceps (muscles at the front of your thigh) keep getting strong and hamstrings stay weak; this over a period of time will effectively create an imbalance around the knee with subsequent knee injuries.
This can be easily countered by including hamstring exercises in your routine. Here are some hamstring exercises that you might want to include in your fitness plan:
- machine leg curls
- straight leg deadlifts
- Glute ham curls
Lack of ‘Relaxation Factor’
Habitual runners give an immense importance to the ‘relaxation factor’ in outdoor training. No surprise then that training on a running machine does not appeal much to them. However, even for these ‘fans’ of outdoor training, a running machine can come in handy when the weather outdoors is too unaccommodating.
Check List for Buying a Running Machine
A robust and high quality motor delivering consistent power for long periods will ensure a smooth running machine. A 3.0 continuous duty horse power motor should be sought if you are looking to use it regularly for running.
Belt widths range from 16 to 22 inches while lengths vary from 45 to 62 inches. For running, a width of more than 20 inches is recommended. For more seasoned runners with bigger stride lengths, the longer the belt length the better. Orthopaedic belts will ensure additional cushion benefits. However, serious runners might prefer lesser of a cushion.
Rollers are the parts of the machine around which the belt winds. Generally, the large these are, the better.
One of the main things that will set a gym quality treadmill apart is the way the company offers warranty on it. In general, a longer warranty means a more durable machine. As stated above, in addition to their important role in weight loss and athletic conditioning, running machines are of immense help in rehabilitation of patients especially, post myocardial infarction and post stroke ones1.
Buy the best compact treadmill you can afford as generally speaking the higher ticket price machines utilize better quality components which will serve you better over the years. Based on the ease, versatility and effectiveness provided by them, it can be safely said that treadmills are still the best pieces of equipment for losing weight.
This was a guest post by Peter Markovic of Goodhealthword.com