8 Ways To Improve Your Treadmill Cardio

By Rick Morris

Running – whether it be outside or on a treadmill – is one of the most effective forms of cardio for dropping body fat. Here are eight common problems – and how to fix them – to help you get the most out of your next HIIT or steady state session.

8 Ways To Improve Your Treadmill Cardio


When you lean forward at the waist you’re fighting gravity with every step. This will slow you down and place more stress on your joints. It will also cause a shortening of your stride. Leaning forward at the waist will cause your hips to be pushed back. That will result in less knee drive, shorter stride length and more up-and-down motion. This is a common posture flaw among treadmill runners because of the tendency to try to push or keep up with the moving belt. Concentrate on keeping your butt tucked in and your body straight and relaxed with a slight forward lean of your entire body. Leaning forward with your whole body will allow you to use gravity rather than fight it.


This is a common form flaw, especially among beginning runners. The hips and butt are pushed out in the back, resulting in a slight sitting position. “Sitting in the bucket” causes your feet to be in front of your body. You can’t get a strong push off in this position and your stride becomes vertical and bouncy. You waste a tremendous amount of energy with this form flaw. It’s almost like running in place. Be sure you keep your hips pushed forward and your butt tucked in to avoid this error. Most of the action of your legs should take place behind your body. Concentrate on pushing off behind your body and pushing your hips forward.


Tense muscles in your upper body means you’re diverting valuable energy to muscles that don’t need it. Keep your body relaxed and erect. Your jaw and face should be relaxed and pliable. Your shoulders and arms should be held in a loose and relaxed manner. Don’t clench your fists. One good cue you can use is to imagine you’re holding a butterfly in your hands. You want to hold on to it, but not crush it.


The two components of running speed are stride length and stride rate. Stride length must be maximized in order to run your best. But, you must accomplish this without overstriding. You need to find the stride length that works best for you. Many top runners actually run with a shorter, quicker stride. But the important thing to remember is that they’re running with the maximum stride length that works best for them. As a treadmill runner, you must pay close attention to maintaining your stride length, because the moving belt of the machine can easily cause you to over or understride

So, how do you find your ideal stride length? You’ll fall into your best stride if you follow some key stride points. There are three components to running stride— push-off, flight and support.


The push-off is the portion of the stride when you drive off your rear foot. Most of the force generated from the push-off comes from ankle joint extension and hip extension. Your ankle joint is extending when you’re pushing the front of your foot down. Push off strongly with your rear foot and drive your lead knee powerfully forward. Push your hips forward, not your head and shoulders. Where your hips lead, your body will follow. This will keep all of the force you’re generating moving forward. If you push your head and shoulders forward, you’ll develop a forward lean at the waist.

Your push-off leg shouldn’t be totally straight at the end of the push-off. Keep the push-off leg soft and slightly bent. This will help keep your body low to the ground and will maintain a forward direction to the force you’re producing. A straight push-off leg will result in a more up-and-down motion, which wastes energy and slows you down.

During the push-off, the knee of your forward or swing leg should be driven powerfully forward. Don’t try to lift the knee high. Concentrate on driving the knee forward. Your knee will automatically be driven higher as your speed increases. Let this happen naturally. Don’t try to artificially drive your knee higher. Pick your feet up quickly. This will give you a light, quick running motion and you’ll waste less time on the running belt. It’s this combination of a powerful push-off, quick feet and a strong forward knee drive that will increase your stride length.

Your lower (calf) portion of your swing leg should fold under your thigh. Think of your leg as a series of “levers.” With your lower leg flexed or folded under your thigh, your leg becomes a shorter lever and will move more efficiently. Imagine if your leg didn’t bend at the knee and you tried to run. It would become very difficult to move the long lever of a straight leg with any efficiency.


During the flight phase, your body is totally in the air, with no support. At this point the lower leg and foot of your swing leg should begin to straighten and drop toward the ground so that at touchdown your foot is directly under your center of gravity. Allow your forward momentum to “center” your body over your forward foot. If you attempt to reach out too far with your forward foot, you’ll land on your heel, initiating a “braking” effect, which is overstriding.

It’s at this point that both overstriding and understriding can occur. If you reach out too far in front of your body with your forward foot or don’t allow the forward momentum of your body to “center” your body over your center of gravity, you’ll overstride and slow yourself down. If you drop your forward foot too quickly you’ll have a short, choppy stride and won’t generate much speed. Just allow all of your forward momentum to remain in motion. Don’t allow an overstride or understride to interrupt this valuable momentum.


The support phase begins when your foot touches down and your leg is flexed. At this point, your muscles are preparing for the next push-off of your other leg. Your touchdown should be either flat-footed or slightly on the ball of your foot, with your heel touching down just after the ball of your foot. If your heel strikes first, some overstriding is present. Running with a slight, whole body, forward lean will encourage this flat-footed support phase.

Upon touchdown, your foot will flex a little. This action will slightly stretch the powerful Achilles tendon just above your heel. This action “loads” the Achilles and calf muscles with energy in preparation for another powerful push-off. When running on the treadmill you should pay very close attention to this phase. Treadmill runners show an increase in the amount of time spent in the support phase. Longer time on the ground will result in a less efficient running stride and a decrease in running performance. Concentrate on being light on your feet with a quick and powerful push-off. Try to forget you’re on a treadmill and visualize moving forward.

Your stride should be light, quick and quiet. Try to run like you’re sneaking up on someone. Your feet should be making as little noise as possible. A quiet stride means you’re running efficiently and powerfully. The best way to achieve a quick, quiet and sneaky stride is to pick your feet up quickly. A heavy and slow stride results when you spend too much time with your feet on the ground or running belt in the support phase.


Arm action is basically for balance and coordination. Keep your arms loose and relaxed. Don’t waste energy by clenching your fists or tightening muscles in your arms and shoulders. Let your shoulders swing freely. Any tension in your upper body can translate into tension throughout your body.

Most top runners keep their arms bent at 90º at the elbows. During the arm swing, most of the movement is behind the body. Try not to let your hands travel above your chest. Don’t cross your arms in front of your body. A common arm action flaw is reaching out in front of your body. This wastes energy and can result in a number of problems, including overstriding. Concentrate on driving your elbows back and keeping your arm action compact.

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