If you think that treadmills are just for working lower body muscles whilst you burn calories, think again! Treadmills engage muscles located all over the body and are one of the most versatile types of exercise equipment out there.
Treadmill exercise can play a role in weight management, cardiovascular fitness and muscle building. So, what muscles does the treadmill work? Read on to find out which specific muscles are working hard when you are walking or running on a treadmill.
What are treadmill workouts?
Treadmill exercises are whatever you want to make them. As well as walking and running forward, you can even try walking backward!
Many people invest in a treadmill to boost their cardiovascular health and this is a great place to start. The NHS advises that adults aged between 19 and 64 take part in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week but spread over several days. Walking briskly on a treadmill would be classed as moderate exercise and running on a treadmill would be classed as vigorous. There are lots of different types of walking that you can do on a treadmill and we tell you more about them here. Why not mix up some outdoor walks with your sessions on the treadmill to get the best of both worlds?
As with all other workouts, you should follow a structured programme of exercise that includes warm-ups and cool-downs. If you have a chronic condition or any concerns about your health you should talk to your doctor first.
What muscles does the treadmill work?
Let’s unpick exactly how a treadmill workout contributes to your overall health by exercising a range of muscles.
The hamstrings muscles run down the back of your thighs. The hamstrings are actually made up of three different muscles called the biceps femoris, the semi-membranosus and the semi-tendinosus. Together, these important muscles allow you to move your hips and knees when you walk, squat, and tilt your pelvis.
Hamstrings injuries are common so it is important to keep them strong so that they can resist the huge forces exerted on them when you are playing a sport. Strong hamstrings also keep your knees stable which is important for sport and for resisting wear and tear as we get older.
To strengthen your hamstrings on a treadmill, start with a 1 per cent upward incline and walk/jog for 10 minutes to warm up. Then gradually increase the incline to a maximum of 12 per cent – walk/jog for 5 minutes at each incline setting. Do the same as you gradually decrease the incline back to 1 per cent.
#2 Calf muscles
The calves at the back of your lower legs are made up of two muscles which are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Without your calves, you would not be able to stand upright because they stabilise the legs. Also, they allow you to move your ankles and flex your feet when you walk, run and jump. Calves often get injured and calf strains are common.
If you are aiming for defined calf muscles, walking and running uphill on a high incline setting on the treadmill will work your calves harder.
#3 Gluteus muscles (glutes)
The gluteus minimus, gluteus medius and gluteus maximus make up the gluteus group of muscles commonly know as the glutes. These are strong and stabilising muscles that have the important job of stabilising the hip flexors and allowing the extension and external rotation of the thigh.
Building larger glutes (butt muscles) is a common aim of many gym-goers and a treadmill helps to support this. For bigger glutes, a combination of walking and running on a treadmill works well. If you are running at a steady pace, inclines up to 10 per cent are great. Sprints, however, should only be at 8 per cent. Power walking is great at any incline. For beginners, alternating between a level surface and an incline is a good plan to start building muscle in this area.
#4 Core muscles
A treadmill workout has many benefits and they are not all related to the legs! Your core muscles will also be involved in treadmill work. These are the major muscles around the spine, abdomen and hips that support the entire body. They keep the body upright and maintain proper posture. There are several core muscles but the ones that are most talked about are the transversus abdominis (abdominal muscles), the oblique muscles and the multifidus.
Core muscles need to be strong for running, especially if you are going to travel long distances. In particular, you will probably find that incline sprints, side steppers and sprint and abb holds are the best treadmill exercises to keep your core engaged.
Quadriceps are leg muscles that are found at the front of your thighs. There are four muscles in all which are the vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and rectus femoris. Without your quadriceps, you would not be able to stand, walk or run and your knee would be very unstable.
It will come as no surprise that running on a treadmill exercises your quads. There are ways in which you can get the most out of your work out which targets specific muscles in your thighs. To give your quads a vigorous work out, set your treadmill to the decline mode setting so that you are walking or running downhill. If your treadmill does not have a decline setting, set the treadmill to an incline and walk backwards! Obviously, this requires great care especially when you do it for the first time.
Does a treadmill tone your stomach?
Yes! It does this in two ways. Firstly, as you run you contract your core muscles to keep you upright and these include the abdominal muscles around the stomach. As your muscles get stronger, your stomach will look more toned. Secondly, running on a treadmill burns calories and that can help to get rid of belly fat when done in conjunction with a calorie-controlled diet.
Is a treadmill good for your cardiovascular system?
Yes, treadmills are excellent for cardiovascular health because they encourage activity at a pace that you need to keep your heart healthy. The cardiac muscle gets a good workout when you are using a treadmill and regular exercise also decreases the risk of a stroke. A treadmill workout is also a great way to burn calories as you tone up your muscles. The harder you workout the more calories you will burn.
Does a treadmill help you gain muscle?
Yes, high intensity running on a treadmill, for short durations can help you gain muscle. The more regular and longer your training, the more muscle you will gain and you will see the visible results faster. You will notice that your legs and glutes become firmer and more defined and your core will look slimmer. At the same time, your heart and lungs are benefiting too. Because running on a treadmill will also help you to burn calories, you will be able to see a better muscle definition as the fat layer under the skin is reduced.
Does a treadmill work upper body muscles?
Treadmills work your core muscles which extend up as far as your abdomen but they do not exercise your upper body or arm muscles. That does not mean that they have to lose out! You can convert your treadmill session into a complete body work out by investing in a resistance band or some dumbbells. This allows you to incorporate an arm workout into your treadmill routine.