How I Learned To Love Treadmill Running

I used to struggle to jog for five minutes, and now I’m knocking off 45-minute runs. Here’s how I did it (spoiler: it involved some serious tech support).

A runner on a treadmill

The writer on her treadmill

Those who know me will confirm my pre-COVID workouts consisted of laps around the mall or walks to the latest bubble tea shops. But I’m currently on a 52-day exercise streak—including Christmas and my birthday. What sparked the change? It might be my goal-oriented personality—or just plain stubbornness, combined with my first Apple Watch and a recent purchase of a used treadmill.

It took me two months, by following online running videos, to gradually build my stamina from a brisk walk to a jog and then to a run that lasted for 20 minutes. Even though I was closing some or all of my watch’s three rings on most days—in Apple speak, closing a move ring means I reached my activity goals for the day—it was dull listening to the same instructor on repeat.

I was about to throw in my runners when I discovered Apple Fitness+ and signed up for a free one-month trial. (Note: You need an Apple Watch, synched to your iPhone, in order to use the Fitness+ app.)

With the app, I could access hundreds of Apple Fitness+ workouts, including HIIT, yoga, core, strength, cycling, rowing, dance, mindful cooldowns and—my favourite!—treadmill. (For the record, the team of trainers is diverse and inclusive, and everyone is upbeat and highly motivating.)

For my first running workout, I chose an instructor—Sam—a time frame (30 minutes), and an ‘everything rock’ playlist, then I propped my iPad on the console of my treadmill. The workout began with Sam introducing her two teammates—one who would demonstrate a modification for walkers and another who would run. With high energy, Sam guided me through a progressive hill and speed workout, ending in an all-out finish. I finished the workout exhausted, but supercharged to try another class. The best part? All my metrics (including heart rate and calories burned) showed up on my iPad screen in real time, so I didn’t have to glance at my Apple Watch while running.

An Apple Fitness+ screengrab

The Apple Fitness+ page

As a creative director, I appreciated how polished and well filmed Apple Fitness+ videos are compared to other treadmill workout videos I’ve tried; also, the trainers personally curate the playlists for their workouts. Fitness+—which draws its songs from Apple Music—offers nine different music genres, ranging from chill vibes, to hip-hop/R&B to pure dance and my all-time favourite, throwback hits.

Fitness+ offers different workout lengths, from 10 minutes to 45 minutes. This allowed me to stack workouts and build endurance depending on my energy level that day. Fitness+ uploads two to three new videos per workout category every Monday, but after three solid weeks of running every day, I finished all 30 treadmill workouts (as of February) before they uploaded new ones…YASS!

Decoding the treadmill video language

Most treadmill videos, including Fitness+, do not suggest numeric running speeds,; instead, they focus on effort and “feeling.” Here are some good cues from the treadmill trainers on how you should ‘feel’ when you hear the following running jargons:

  • Warmup speed: About 3 km/h, slow enough to do some warm-up drills like high knees or butt kicks.
  • Easy intensity, 70 percent effort: A slow jog; you could walk fast at this speed if you want to.
  • Base pace, sweet spot, moderate intensity, 80 percent effort: You can get a quick short sentence out, take a couple of breaths and another quick short sentence. This is a speed that you can hold for the entire workout, you’ll feel challenged but it wouldn’t push you to hard effort.
  • Hard intensity, 90 percent effort: You’re not breathless, but this is a speed that you don’t want to talk anymore. You’re uncomfortable and you’re running like someone is chasing you.
  • All-out intensity, 100 percent effort: You are breathless, you can’t talk and you want to give up.
The Apple Fitness+ trainers

The Apple Fitness+ trainers

Sun’s treadmill tips

I love sharing my positive experience with the Fitness+ treadmill app. Here are some tips that have worked well for me.

  • Putting a full-length mirror about 2 metres in front of the treadmill allowed me to check my form regularly (especially when the trainers are telling you to ‘run tall’).
  • A fan is an absolute must. No matter how cold my basement may be, at the end of a HIIT workout, I am drenched
  • Loosen up! “Your hands are closed but not too tight. Pretend you’re holding eggshells, too loose, you’ll drop them, too tight, you’ll crack them”—a good visual tip from coach Sam Sanchez—really helped me to keep my form in check so I can run more efficiently.
  • I found high intensity interval training (HIIT) on the treadmill with hills sprinkled in between helped with boredom—and allowed me to close my move ring faster than, say, HIIT on the floor.
  • If I’m trying a new all-out speed, I will only do it for about 30 secs and then build up. (My all-out speed a few months ago is my new base pace today.)
  • Imagining running up the stairs and not dragging my feet really helped with hill intervals, along with faster and choppier feet—I pretended the treadmill is on fire!
  • Swing your arms from your shoulders, front to back. This helped me realize that the faster I move my arms, the faster my legs move. Imagine that!
  • It’s okay if you’re not getting faster on every run. As trainer Scott Carvin repeats in many videos, “today’s legs are not yesterday’s legs’ and “it’s about the effort not the speed.”
  • “Lean into the hill but stay tall’ confused me because it’s an oxymoron. But it clicked after hearing coach Jamie-Ray explain it as leaning forward at a slight incline without bending forward at the waist.
  • A good speed check, as suggested by coach Emily Fayette, is asking yourself, “could you go at this speed for three more minutes, if the answer is ‘yes’, add more speed and don’t hold back.”

After three months of test driving Fitness+, I signed up for the year (which cost $99). I no longer fear 45-minute runs on the treadmill, I enjoy the hill intervals, my base pace has jumped to 8 km/h and my all-out speed is between 10 km/h to 12 km/h. In other words: quite a feat for a fitness newbie who couldn’t even run on the treadmill for more than five minutes five months ago. My next personal challenge? To test out my legs in the real world this summer.

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