Like them or hate them, treadmills have a long running history. In the early 1800s, prisons used treadmills as punishment, and also as a way for prisoners to mill their own grain and pump their own water. By the late 19th century, treadmills were powered by everything from horses, to dogs and goats, and used to help with standard tasks, like as grindstones and butter churners.
Treadmills were first used for exercise in gymnasiums in the 1920s. Dr. Robert Bruce began using treadmills to test cardiac function in the 1950s, while the modern boom of treadmill exercise in homes and health clubs began in the late 1960s.
Nowadays Bluetooth-connected, television-equipped, programmable, inclining/declining, luxury machines are everywhere. Whether you’re jogging a few miles in a hotel gym, training for a marathon, staying active at a stand-up desk or trying to set a world record (Ronnie Delzer holds the Guinness World Record for distance on a treadmill in 12 hours with 89.38 miles), treadmills have become a ubiquitous part of the modern running and fitness landscape. In the U.S. alone, more than 51 million people used a treadmill in 2016.
While treadmills are also referred to with less-than-complimentary nicknames because of how boring running on one can be (dreadmills, hamster wheels and conveyor belts to nowhere), Amy Puzey, an accomplished trail runner and mother of five young children, loves running on treadmills.
“I’ve always used treadmills to train, and, while I couldn’t do it every day, they’ve helped me immensely as a mother,” says Puzey, who is the race director for the 5 Peaks Trail Running Series in Canada. “They allow so much flexibility on the days it rains, snows, or when it’s too icy and dangerous to be running outside. I grew up in the mountains so I’m obviously partial to hitting the trails, but I also love the safety and convenience of the treadmill.”
Last year, Puzey, who is coached by her husband Jacob, trained for an early season race, the February Cowtown Marathon in Dallas/Fort Worth, almost exclusively on a treadmill. Their plan paid off; she was the first female finisher in 3:01:29.
“The treadmill gave me so much confidence to be able to hit and hold certain paces on my runs,” says Puzey, who also utilized a treadmill to train for (and win) the 2016 Grizzly Ultra 50K in Alberta just six months after her fifth child was born. “I realize the treadmill doesn’t simulate race day, winds, weather, etc., but having most of my key runs take place in a controlled environment ensured that they got done and nothing else got in the way.”
Amy isn’t the only Puzey to rely on treadmill training.
“I try to squeeze in as much running as I can,” says Jacob Puzey who is a running coach and a race director. “With so many kids and so many activities and such extremes in weather, the treadmill is often my best option for high-quality workouts and/or long runs.”
Oh, he happens to be speedy. In 2016, Puzey, 35, set a new record for the fastest 50-mile run on a treadmill in 4:57:45. That’s an average of 5:57 per mile. He also owns a 2:25 marathon personal best and was the top Canadian finisher at the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:26:52) after doing at least two-thirds of his training on a treadmill.
From solving the challenges of childcare and inclement weather, to maintaining a specific pace, Amy Puzey thinks incorporating treadmills into a training plan is vital to any runner. She recommends music and Netflix to keep treadmill training fun. Many treadmills now come with programmable courses, with course videos to watch as you go, another favorite way for her to log mileage.
READ MORE: 5 Coach-Recommended Treadmill Workouts
Tips for Taking Your Training to the Treadmill
Here are Jacob Puzey’s tips to maximize your time when training on a treadmill:
Use technology to your advantage
Subscribe to iFit or other apps that make you feel like you are running somewhere else. Some of these apps can be integrated into the treadmill itself so that you are not only seeing the terrain vary on a screen, the treadmill actually adjusts to the incline and decline of the terrain.
Use your time on the treadmill to watch the news or sports or your favorite TV shows.
Listen to audiobooks or podcasts.
Improve your form
Place a mirror in front of the treadmill (and if you are at a gym try running on a treadmill with mirrors on all sides). This allows you to see the way that your feet are striking the ground and the way you are carrying your arms and hands. Aim to keep hands to the side and don’t let your arms cross the midline of your body. (I became a much more efficient runner by running 1-2 hours a day on a treadmill while training for my first marathon at my university gym with mirrors on all sides).
Get up before the sun (and kids) to get things done
Try to get your run in before the stress of the day overwhelms you. Collect your thoughts and tackle the day with a clear mind.
READ MORE: Trials of the Miles—24 Hours on a Treadmill