Many Americans are hopping on treadmills this winter to fulfill their exercise needs. Some popular gym chains and boutique fitness centers are even offering treadmill classes.
Before you start running, there are some things to consider, says Laura Wheatley, a graduate student in Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of Utah. She recommends checking in with your doctor before beginning any cardiovascular exercise program.
When it comes to treadmills, it's especially important to make your increases slow and steady. "Jogging is a high-impact exercise and can be very stressful to muscles, bones, joints and connective tissues," Wheatley says. Ease into it by starting with 20- to 30-minute workouts that alternate running and walking.
Wheatley recommends starting and ending with five minutes of walking to warm up and cool down. In between, alternate jogging for one to two minutes and walking for two to five minutes.
"Body parts become stronger as they adapt to the stress and activity," Wheatley says, so you can increase the intensity of your workouts each week. Add 30 to 60 seconds to each jogging interval, or decrease walking intervals by 30 to 60 seconds, or do both.
The incline feature of a treadmill is a good way to "ramp up" your workout.
"Walking or jogging on an incline forces your body to work harder against gravity, thus increasing the amount of energy expended," Wheatley says. This means you'll burn more calories even if you don't increase your speed.
"It also can be more stressful on your body, so it is important to start out slow," she advises. Add just a 1% or 2% incline for short intervals during your workout, and each week slightly increase either the time spent exercising at an incline or the pitch of the incline, Wheatley says.
And finally, while the treadmill does have handrails, you shouldn't be hanging on to them while you work out, running coach David Siik tells TIME magazine. "Holding on isn't good for your back, and it's not helping you get any stronger either," he says. If you can't keep up without hanging on to the rails, dial back your intensity.