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The best treadmill routine for weight loss

Tribune News Service (Rodriguez / Tribune News Service)
Tribune News Service (Rodriguez / Tribune News Service)

If you haven’t exercised in decades, walking on a treadmill is the perfect first step toward dropping pounds.

For one, it’s approachable: The main types of exercise you do on a treadmill – walking, jogging, and running – are among the most natural forms of human movement, says Judy Heller, walking coach, personal trainer and owner of Wonders of Walking in Portland.

And walking on the treadmill (as opposed to outside) has the benefit of being lower impact, which is easy on the joints. Plus, you’ll avoid uneven surfaces, car exhaust fumes and excuses due to the weather.

So long as you’re consistent with a routine and keep your food choices in check, the treadmill can be a great weight loss tool for people ages 50 plus, Heller says. Here’s how to get started.

First, get comfortable on the treadmill.

Before introducing intervals (more on that below), you should feel comfortable walking on a 1 percent incline treadmill (which adds resistance to mimic outdoor conditions) at a brisk pace (around 4 miles per hour) for 40 minutes, two to three times a week. You should also have good form: tall posture, not slumped, leaning, or tensed; level head, eyes staring straight ahead; relaxed arm swing with elbows bent around 90 degrees; feet pointed straight ahead, rolling gently from heel to toe. (Here are solutions to the 10 biggest walking pains.)

Every walk needn’t (and shouldn’t) be all-out exertion. “What’s important is consistency of effort – even 10 minutes, if time is short – and not eating more to make up for walking,” Heller says, noting that a mile of walking burns about 100 calories.

Next, add intervals.

Once the routine above seems easy, the best way to amp up your calorie burn is to integrate intervals: periods in which you either increase the pace or the incline to exert more effort. “Intervals provide a double benefit: cardiovascular fitness and increasing muscle strength – which also burns calories,” Heller says.

Below are three interval routines designed to help with weight loss.

Level 1

Start with this workout a couple of times per week, interspersed with easier-paced walks, long and short, that you can do daily.

Total time: 10 to 30 minutes

Set incline at 1 percent.

Time and pace

0-3 minutes, RPE 4*

3-3:30, RPE 6

3:30-6:30, recovery at RPE 4

6:30-7, RPE 6

7-10, recovery at RPE 4

Repeat, if desired (once is 10 minutes; twice is 20 minutes; three times is 30 minutes).

*RPE means “rate of perceived exertion.” On a scale of 1 (“this is nothing”) to 10 (“please make it stop now”), a 4 is a very light pace used for warming up. A 5 is what Heller calls “cruise control” – a good pace you can do practically indefinitely. Moderate is in the 6 to 7 range – here, you’ll be breathing a bit more intensely. A brisk clip is an 8-plus – your breathing is heavy and carrying on a conversation is out of the question, though you’re able to speak single sentences.

To reach the RPE listed, start by adjusting the pace only, and then try adding incline up to 6 percent as you get stronger.

Level 2

Progress to the next-level workout once you feel you’ve mastered the previous one. If at any point you start to feel out of control or out of breath, or you begin clutching the handles, slow down or lower the incline.

Total time: 30 minutes

Set incline at 1 percent.

Time and pace

0-3 minutes, RPE 5

3-4, RPE 7

4-6, recovery at RPE 5

6-7, RPE 7

7-10, recovery at RPE 4

Repeat 3 times.

Level 3

Total time: 30 minutes

Set incline at 3 percent.

Time and pace

0-3 minutes, up to RPE 6

3-5, RPE 7

5-6, recovery at RPE 5

6-8, RPE 8

8-10, Recovery at RPE 5

Repeat 3 times.


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