The good ol’ treadmill is certainly one of the standards as far as gym cardio machines go, but even so treadmill cardio unfortunately rates right up there in the prize for most boring workouts ever invented.
Sure, the treadmill has its advantages. It allows you to do your cardio indoors, in relative safety and comfort. It manages your speed for you, making it easy to track your progress. And it can even have a stab at working out how many calories you’re burning, for what it’s worth.
But let’s face it, treadmill cardio is pretty limited in terms of what you can do, right? I mean, what are your options? Jogging, walking, running. That’s about it, right?
Well, not necessarily.
That may be how a treadmill was intended to be used, but with a bit of thought and creativity it’s actually possible to spice things up a little, to make the treadmill a far more interesting and effective piece of cardio exercise equipment.
Here are 5 innovative and clever ways that you can use the simple treadmill to make your cardio more exciting, more challenging, and burn more calories. And as an added bonus, they’ll also tone your glutes and legs as part of the deal!
1. Walking Lunges
Most people are familiar with the simple Walking Lunge, usually done either holding a barbell across your shoulders or holding a pair of dumbbells by your sides. This is actually a great exercise to do on a treadmill unweighted but at a fast pace, so therefore with more of a cardio-focus.
I don’t recommend doing this exercise on the treadmill with a barbell or dumbbells simply because of the potential for losing your balance, which can result in your getting injured. Instead, simply hold the front support of the treadmill with both hands for stability as you do the exercise.
To increase the intensity of this treadmill cardio exercise, simply increase the speed of the treadmill. You don’t need to worry too much if your rear foot comes off the back every now and then (more so a problem for taller women) since it’s your front leg that’s doing the work each time you come up. Also holding on to the front support of the treadmill keeps you reasonably safe.
Another method for increasing the intensity of this exercise is to wear a weight vest or a weighted backpack, if you have access to either of these.
An addition you can make to the Treadmill Walking Lunge is to kick your back leg up each time it steps off the treadmill. You can see this being performed in the following video:
This makes the exercise a little more challenging by activating the glute of the non-working leg during each lunge, giving it something to do.
When you feel you’re ready you can then add yet another level of difficulty by wearing ankle weights while performing Treadmill Kick Walking Lunges.
When performing regular Walking Lunges you’re limited to stepping in such a way that always maintains your balance. On a treadmill however, this isn’t so because you’re actually holding on to a support while performing the exercise.
A great variation of the Treadmill Walking Lunge therefore is what I call the Treadmill Curtsy Walking Lunge.
For this exercise, instead of lunging directly ahead each time, you step across your body to the other side. So for example, when lunging forward with your right leg, you step so that your right foot comes down on the left side of the treadmill belt, and vice versa for your left leg.
In this way you resemble an exaggerated version of a cat walking. How far you step across is entirely up to you. As you become more proficient you’ll be able to step further across comfortably. If you find it difficult to balance with this exercise you can hold on to the side rails of the treadmill rather than the front support.
The benefit of this exercise is that it allows you to target your glutes at an oblique angle, much like performing Curtsy Squats does. And of course as for the normal Treadmill Walking Lunge, you can also add a kick to each lunge for an extra challenge, with or without ankle weights.
2. Jump Squats
Side Jump Squats are a great plyometric form of treadmill cardio. To perform these, you face sideways on the treadmill, holding on to the side railing in front of you. As the treadmill is moving, you squat down and then pop back up sideways toward the front of the treadmill. You continue to repeat these jump squats for the desired period of time.
You can see this exercise being performed in the following video:
As for the Treadmill Walking Lunges, you can make this exercise more challenging by speeding up the treadmill (within safe limits, of course) or by wearing a weighted vest or backpack. The depth to which you squat will of course also determine how difficult the exercise is.
3. Power Walking
Power walking is another great treadmill cardio exercise since not only does it effectively raise your heart rate, it also directly targets your butt for a great glute workout.
To do this on a treadmill, simply set the machine to an appropriate speed, hold on firmly to the front support, and walk forward forcefully so that your feet are pushing against the treadmill belt with each step in such a way that tries to make the machine run faster. The treadmill is therefore providing a constant resistance against which you’re working.
With this exercise you’ll start to feel the burning in your glutes quite quickly.
By playing around with different speeds, you’ll find that you can strike different combinations of walking speed versus resistance. At slower speeds you’re obviously waking more slowly but your glutes are working under tension for longer periods of time, causing them to fatigue more quickly, and vice versa for faster treadmill speeds.
Ideally you should perform Treadmill Power Walking at different speeds and different treadmill incline angles to challenge you in different ways and therefore get a wider range of benefits.
4. Side Skips
Side Skips are exactly what the name suggests – skipping sideways on the treadmill.
This exercise is performed facing sideways on the treadmill. You have the option of either holding on to the side railing in front of you or not holding onto anything at all, it depends on how confident you are. You then simply skip sideways into the direction of the moving treadmill (towards the front).
You can see what this exercise looks like in the following video:
In this video the girls are performing the exercise at a very casual speed for the camera (as you can see they’re smiling and chatting away at the same time). Normally you would skip faster than this and of course put more effort into the exercise.
Although there’s no real resistance associated with this exercise you will nevertheless feel the burning in your glutes and thighs as you do it. Once again, you can alter the intensity of the exercise by increasing the treadmill speed (safely) and the inclination angle.
5. Power Abductors
The exercise that I call Power Abductors is another higher-resistance form of treadmill cardio. It’s basically the resistance version of Side Skips, just as Power Walking is the resistance version of jogging.
To perform Power Abductors you once again face sideways on the treadmill, but this time you brace yourself by holding on to the front support of the machine with one hand. Set the machine to an appropriate speed and instead of skipping sideways, you merely step sideways toward the front of the treadmill. So in effect you’re essentially walking sideways.
Each time you step sideways, with the foot that you’re standing on push the treadmill in such a way that tries to make the machine run faster. As it does for Power Walking, the treadmill is therefore providing a constant resistance against which you’re working.
So for example, if the front of the treadmill is on your right side you’re stepping to your right. As you step to the right, your left foot pushes the treadmill belt in the direction it’s traveling while your right hand resists the push by holding the treadmill’s front support. This movement simulates a straight-leg abduction exercise, which targets your hip abductor muscles (gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor fasciae latae).
As for Power Walking, you should vary the speeds at which you perform this exercise to strike different combinations of stepping speed versus resistance, and therefore challenge yourself in different ways. Also bear in mind that increasing the inclination angle of the treadmill actually makes this exercise slightly easier.
So from this group of exercises hopefully you can see that treadmill cardio doesn’t need to be dull and boring. In fact, quite the opposite. You can try putting together a program that incorporates these movements in a circuit arrangement, together with treadmill jogging or sprints if you wish, to create a super-effective high-intensity cardio workout.
Note that the Jump Squats, Side Skips and Power Abductors all need to be done on both sides, as each of these exercises only works one side of your body.
Give these exercises a go, and let me know your experiences with them in the comments below. Tell me what you thought about them, what you liked and what you didn’t like. I’d love to hear from you.