Treadmill Classes That’ll Cure Your Indoor Running Blues

Kelly O'Mara
by Kelly O'Mara
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Treadmill Classes That’ll Cure Your Indoor Running Blues

One of the greatest things about running is that you can do it nearly anywhere — which also makes it a fantastic way to get outside. But now there’s a new crop of indoor running classes that rivals the indoor cycling trend anyday and entice even the most avid runner indoors.

Instead of thinking of the treadmill as a miserable necessity, think of it as a valuable tool that can offer training benefits with less impact on your knees — as well as an escape from the elements. Plus, it can be a great workout, as you always know your pace. “When you put it at 9 mph, it’s 9 until you change it or fall off,” says David Siik, a former elite runner and coach who developed the Precision Running treadmill classes and studio for Equinox.

“Treadmill running is, in many ways, it’s own sport,” says Siik. If you’re ready to get (indoor) running, here are some treadmill classes to try.


What it is: With about 20 (and rising) locations in the US and another with six in Norway and the UK, Barry’s does only one thing, and it does it with gusto. After trying it, I realized that the name says it all: It is first and foremost a boot camp, not a running class. But running plays a starring role in the aerobic half of the workout. The idea is to burn calories on the treadmill and build strength on the weight bench — and get it all done in just an hour. When you sign up, you’re assigned a number and start in that numbered spot either on a treadmill or at a bench, then you switch between the two for three rounds — warmup, workout and cooldown. Each day focuses on a different body part — abs/arms, legs, etc. — with classes offered every hour or two. For the dedicated, there are full-body days once or twice per week.

What makes it different: The atmosphere is go-go-go and more than a little intense, with an upbeat instructor and very loud music. There is always a group of participants on the floor and a group on the treadmills, meaning there are instructions being shouted out for both groups — it can feel chaotic. It took a full set on the treadmill before I understood what the instructor was saying. On the treadmill, the directions were fairly simple — run at 7, 8 or 9 mph at 1% incline; then increase the incline to 4%; then increase the speed to 8, 9 or 10 for 1 minute, and so on.

Judging from the runners around me, no one was following the directions exactly. Everyone was doing some variation of their own version of what the instructor was yelling. On the floor, the exercises were more directed and specific — and exhausting. It was an abs/arm day, which meant lots of rows  and push presses — all while doing leg lifts. It was harder to improvise the strength exercises, since everyone could see if you had given up early on the hands-to-toes situps.

Why I’d do it again: If I really wanted to cram in a full-body, wham-bam-and-you’re-done workout.


What it is: Equinox’s Precision Running classes are designed to be less of a typical fitness class and more of a specifically designed running workout. Siik spent years developing a system that calculates the tradeoffs in incline, speed and duration on the treadmill as opposed to outdoors. He used that to build a library of 45-minute workouts that incorporate aerobic running and high-intensity efforts.

What makes it different: The workouts are based on your individual max pace, which you use as a benchmark. To start, think of a max effort you can hold for 1 minute repeatedly over a workout. The coaches dictate efforts, which you adjust based on your specific number. The instructor might tell you to set it at 2 mph below your number at 0% incline, then increase the speed to just 1 mph below your number, etc. This allows you more specificity in your running, and lets everyone in class run at very different speeds. Each week, all the classes nationwide do the same workout designed by Siik. The week I went the workout was called El Quatro. In each of the four sections, the incline built up, then the speed increased, then we took a recovery jog and did it again but faster.

Why I’d do it again: It was the hardest I’ve run in a treadmill class.


What it is: Thoroughbred, an independent treadmill studio in Northern California run by mother-son coaching team Laura and Jake Schmitt, features a coach on an elevated treadmill in front. The 45-minute workouts are done with screens covering the treadmill console, so you can’t judge yourself or the people near you. Laura Schmitt prefers her athletes not to focus too much on the numbers but simply go by feel. Classes include a warmup, some strides and tempo efforts, typically a long hard hill with the music blasting and then fast, short intervals.

What makes it different: The studio offers 20 minutes of strength and core work after class. Many of their coaches, who are elite runners, work with athletes and local teams on training plans to prepare for races and on nutrition counseling. While there are runners and walkers of all abilities, the whole studio is specifically running-focused. This is not a boot camp. “We are a running class,” says Laura Schmitt.

Why I’d do it again: To get in a race-specific hard workout efficiently.


What it is: Crunch offers two types of treadmill classes — Tread n’ Shed and Tread Bootcamp —  in most of the major markets and a few smaller ones: New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Northern California. Each class is either 30 or 45 minutes. The Tread n’ Shed is a running class done completely on the treadmill and primarily aimed at weight loss, while the boot camp is similar to Barry’s in that it mixes up aerobic running and strength exercises.

What makes it different: The Tread n’ Shed class started with runners wearing weighted vests, then died down briefly and is now back — minus the weighted vests — and more popular than ever. The general idea, says Crunch fitness manager and instructor Taj Harris, is that the instructor dictates the incline and duration of intervals, but the runners determine the pace. It’s up to you to decide what three minutes at a light jog, then three minutes at a run, then one minute at a full-on sprint means to you. Harris says she usually keeps the workouts the same for about one month, so that everyone can see how they improve and give themselves a benchmark. She also makes incline adjustments for people who come to power walk.


No treadmill class near you? Here’s how you can re-create one at home or at your gym.

I run on the treadmill by myself a lot. There are plenty of benefits to it, but the main reason I find the treadmill useful is to push myself to an intensity I might not do outside. I learn how to suffer on the treadmill. To do this though, you have to go harder than you think you want to.

There are hard repeats you can do on the treadmill ad nauseam until you learn how to hold a tough pace through exhaustion. But try this workout that Ironman champion and coach Hillary Biscay developed:

  • Start at your very easy jog pace for 3 minutes (e.g., 7.3 mph). After 3 minutes, increase the speed by 1 mph for 2 minutes.
  • Decrease it to 0.1 mph above your easy pace for 3 minutes, then increase it to 0.1 mph over your easy pace for 2 minutes.
  • Increase it another 0.1 mph for 3 minutes, then add 1 mph for two minutes.  
  • Keep building up, adding 0.1 mph for 3 minutes then 1 mph for 2 minutes, until you have completed an hour. (Or do 12 x [3 minutes at the slower pace, 2 minutes at the faster pace].)
  • The key is not to take any breaks and to work your way up to very, very challenging paces for the last 15–20 minutes.

About the Author

Kelly O'Mara
Kelly O'Mara

Kelly is a professional triathlete and reporter outside San Francisco, where she is an on-call producer for the local NPR station. Her works appears regularly in espnW, Competitor, Triathlete and California Magazine. She also co-hosts the podcast, Locker Room Talk, for WiSP: The Global Women’s Sports Network. And she trains. A lot.


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