12 Tips That Make Treadmill Running Way Less Lame

Photographed by James Farrell.
There's a reason why people call the treadmill the "dreadmill," and it's not just because it's an easy pun. Running to nowhere on a hamster-like wheel can be pretty boring, unless you actively think of ways to make it interesting. "Treadmill routines, just like outdoor running, should have some method to the madness," says Karli Alvino, a NASM-certified personal trainer and coach at Mile High Run Club, a treadmill running class in New York City.

The key is to step on the treadmill with a plan: How long are you planning to run, and how fast? Deciding to run until you get tired is not an ideal way to start, and will also have you praying for it to end. Knowing exactly when your "finish line" is, on the other hand, will help pass the time, prevent you from over-running (which is a thing), and get you in and out of the gym faster overall.

There are group treadmill classes available at some gyms and boutique studios (we talked to trainers at two of them), which can help you learn how to use the 'mill in a way that's focused and fun, but you can also use these tips at the gym or at home. Keep in mind that it's not just you; even people who love a good runner's high find running in-place monotonous. Here are some unexpected tips and tricks to stay sane — and maybe even have a good time — when you're on the treadmill.
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Make a goal.
As soon as you step on the belt, decide what your end point (in miles or minutes) is going to be, in relation to your ultimate reason for running, says Susan Simon, a personal trainer at Equinox who coaches the gym's Precision Running class. If you're training for a race, pick a number of miles that makes sense for your training plan (which you should have, BTW), otherwise 20 minutes of running — or 20 minutes of alternating between walking and jogging, if you're not ready for an uninterrupted run yet — is a good place to start.
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Listen to songs you actually know.
Save your Spotify Discover playlist for sitting at your desk. Hearing familiar music while you run will take your mind off of what you're doing and help you get lost in it, Alvino says. Whether that's the Hamilton soundtrack, Little Mix, or that one Drake song you have on repeat, you better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it. "You might want to sing along through long miles," she says.
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Breathe with your steps.
Thinking about your breath when you're really huffing and puffing might seem like a non-negotiable, but Alvino says counting how many steps you can take with an inhale, and then with an exhale, will help you connect with your body. It's just like meditation, but different.
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Think about your form.
Do a quick scan of your body, from top to bottom, Simon says. "Good form helps you conserve energy, which can make all the difference," she says. It's also an easy trick to get your mind off the fact that you're bored to death. Keep your shoulders and neck loose, and your head up. Your hands should also be relaxed; making fists will just make things feel harder. If you're running flat, keep your torso upright; and if you're running uphill, lean forward slightly.
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Throw on a towel.
Time seems to slow down when you're on the treadmill, but not in a good way. It's totally fine if you need to put a towel over the treadmill console to hide the numbers, says Natalie Johnson, a NASM-certified personal trainer and running coach with Run F.I.T. "You must go to your happy place, otherwise you'll be hyper-focused on the time and miles," she says. Out of sight, out of mind, unless you're changing up the speed and incline (more on that later), in which case you're going to want to see what you're doing.
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Lean in to your stress.
If you're running in the morning, use this time to think about all the different things you have to do in the day, Alvino says. "Many people say they do their best thinking while on a long run," she says. And if you're running at the end of the day, think about all the things you checked off your list. Feel free to get lost in your thoughts — good, bad, stressful, whatever.
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Dedicate a minute to a person.
If you're not into mindfulness or running, you might as well try to kill two birds with one stone. Break up the chunks of time into increments that make sense (minutes, miles, whatever) and decide to think about one person in your life for that minute. What do you like about them? Are you thankful to have them in your life? "By the end of the run, you will not only feel accomplished for having finished the run, but might have some possible mental breakthroughs, too," Alvino says.
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Finally watch Stranger Things.
One of the hardest things about running is finding a way to pass the time, Simon says. And if running with your thoughts isn't working (we don't blame you), use the time to catch up on some of the pop culture — like Podcasts or audio books — that you don't have time for during your day, she says. Or use the time as an excuse to watch the trashy TV shows that you normally wouldn't. If your gym's WiFi sucks, remember: Netflix offline viewing was made for a reason, fam.
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Go a little faster.
Part of your anti-boredom plan can be to add in intervals, suggests Simon. "No matter where you fall within the spectrum of uber-serious runners to 'I know this is good for me but I can't get myself to do it,' interval training is a great way to mix it up," she says. Warm up for two minutes at a pace that you feel comfortable jogging, then alternate between 90 seconds at your comfy pace and then 30 seconds two levels faster than that. Go back and forth five times, then finish with a two-minute cool down jog.
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Make it a little steeper.
You can also choose to keep your speed consistent the whole time, and instead vary the incline, Simon says. When you get bored, up the incline (between 2% and 8% is a good place to start, she says) for one minute breaks. Don't be intimidated, it'll actually make running on a flatter surface — like the great outdoors — feel easier.
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Don't push yourself too hard.
Treadmills can make you feel like "Whoa, where is my body going?" so Alvino says first you have to actually find a speed that works for you. "You have to feel like you're the driving force behind the revolutions of the treadmill belt," she says. That's a practical tip for safety, but it'll also keep you sane and make your run as a whole feel doable. Find a speed that feels challenging, but still manageable, and ignore the intense person trying to lap you on the treadmill next to you.
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Check in with your surroundings.
Once you've settled on a safe and comfortable pace, take mental notes about where you are to help regain your focus, Alvino says. What's the temperature like in the gym? Can you tell that it's a nice day outside? Are the other runners in tandem with you? Look around, look around at how lucky you are to be running right now.
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