Adult woman confidently running on treadmill in home.

Move Those Restless Legs on Your Treadmill

I admit it. I have been terribly inactive lately. I can give you a list of excuses, but let's face it – I just haven't chosen to make it a priority.

My legs have recently started rebelling, though. I started having issues with pain and warmth searing through them at bedtime. For the first time in a long time, I have had trouble sleeping and found myself getting up and pacing at night. I knew immediately the issue was my lack of activity.

Warm weather means I am outside and active more, but living in North Carolina, it gets quite hot. I often find myself turning to my treadmill in air-conditioned comfort.

Changing my treadmill mindset

Several years ago, when undergoing physical therapy for a knee injury, I was told I needed to stop running. I thought about selling my treadmill. However, my physical therapist talked me out of it and told me it was one of the best things that I could do for my legs. I simply needed to change my mindset when I was on it.

I was prone to get on the treadmill and keep increasing the speed to my current maximum level. I went as fast and as long as I could, then would cool down for about a minute. Maybe.

Working smarter, not harder

I didn’t run because I had proven I am not graceful, and bad things happen when I am running on the treadmill. Thankfully, there are no videos. But I would walk as hard and fast as I could for an hour at a time.

My physical therapist told me to quit feeling as though I was in a race. I was working too hard to get what I needed. I also was risking injury. She told me to slow down a bit and concentrate on other things. The goal was to build strong legs and avoid injuries.

Tips for transforming treadmill time

So here are a few tips that have worked for me as I have tried to transform my treadmill time.

Watch your posture

When we don’t stand straight and tall, our lungs don’t work as well. We don’t strengthen our core. Our balance is impacted. We get injured more often. Posture is important. Not only does it help correct these things, but I have found I pay more attention to my body overall if I am watching my posture.

Stop holding on to the treadmill

If you’re about to fall, definitely hold on! But why are you falling? You’re probably going too fast. Like my physical therapist told me, you get no bonus points for excessive speed. When you hold on to the treadmill, you’re keeping yourself from doing the work yourself. Your posture gets worse, and you don’t improve your balance. Also, if your arms are free, you can swing them for some extra calorie burning and cardio.

Use your incline

A one percent incline is about where you would be walking on a flat surface outside. Adding more to your workout uses different muscles than walking on a flat surface and allows you to improve your breathing. It also helps you function in the real world. Those hills, those steps – they’ll get easier if you are working that incline.

Change your patterns

I used to be guilty of getting on one speed and staying at that speed for most of my workout. I only used incline occasionally. Unfortunately, our body learns our patterns and starts to get too efficient when it knows what is coming. That means it is not working as hard to do the exact same workout you were doing a week ago. Use the speed and the incline and change one or the other, or even both, every few minutes. Pay attention to your body and adjust when it seems to be getting a bit too comfortable.

Distract wisely

I often see people in the gym watching TV or reading a book. I won’t say never do that – I have been known to do it on occasion. I try to avoid it, though. I do listen to music, especially music that makes me want to move. Your pace often follows the music, so unless you are doing a warmup or cooldown, try to keep the tempo lively. I sometimes listen to podcasts, too. It’s not for everyone because it does cause some people to slow down. But I find that often it keeps me on the treadmill longer than I would have stayed without it. Don’t let it distract you from getting a good workout, though.

Break your time into smaller sessions

I used to only use my treadmill if I was going to stay on for an hour. I have learned that it’s just as effective and way less boring to break it up into several sessions during the day. I work at a desk a lot, at home, and my treadmill is in my office. Sometimes I hop on for 5 minutes to take a short break. It makes all the difference.

Learn new things

My physical therapist taught me to walk on the treadmill backward, for example. I need strong legs to support my weak knees. I am not graceful, so she laughingly told me to start at level 1 speed and to hold on. Don’t forget about your posture, and don’t hold on so tight that you are not getting any benefit from the exercise. I find holding onto the sides lightly gives me plenty of support, and if I should start to falter, I can grab on tighter for a few seconds.

Don’t let your treadmill be used as a clothes rack. Use it for its intended purpose. Those restless legs of ours need to move during the day, so our nights are more comfortable.

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