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KATHY SMITH

A Welcome Shot of Energy for Treadmills

May 03, 1999|KATHY SMITH

Let's face it. Working out on a treadmill can be a lot like watching grass grow. It's easy to understand how you can get bored, because the scenery never changes. That's why we arm ourselves with magazines, music, even television--anything to get our minds off what we're doing and make the time pass.

Ellen Abbott realized that the more boring an exercise is, the less likely someone is to do it; I guess she saw all those treadmills collecting dust in bedroom corners. As a leader in fitness walking, she decided to create something that would transform the way people approach the treadmill. So she invented Treading, a series of motivating treadmill workouts.

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I first discovered Treading at the International Dance Exercise Assn.'s annual convention a few years ago. Almost immediately, I was hooked on this new concept. I realized that Treading could do for the treadmill what Spinning did for the exercise bike. It turns an ordinary treadmill workout into a challenging adventure.

Treading increases your fitness level by getting you to work harder. If you've been on a treadmill at home or in your club, you've probably fallen into the habit of doing the same workout at the same level of intensity. And you may have been immersed in the latest blockbuster novel or popular magazine, so you didn't even notice your intensity level. In other words, if you can read easily while you're on the treadmill, you're not challenging yourself enough. And you're not getting results, because you're not following the basic principles of exercise: to continue to improve, you have to work out longer or harder; or you have to vary your workout.

I think the best way to describe how Treading works is by giving you a sample workout, one of many. (For more information about Treading, see http://www.treading.com.) Ellen calls this one "Double Trouble":

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Begin by warming up at your normal speed (either walking or running) for five minutes. Now increase the incline resistance on your treadmill by two percentage points. Continue at this grade for two minutes, then increase the grade by another two points. After two minutes have passed, add another two points. When you've followed this recipe--two minutes for every two points--and peaked at a 12-percentage point increase, then set your treadmill to flat and recover for five minutes at your normal rate. Now repeat the whole sequence, finishing with a five-minute cool down.

If your treadmill doesn't have an incline button, increase your speed by two-tenths of a mile per hour every two minutes, peaking at an additional 1.2 miles per hour. So if your normal speed is 3 mph, you'll reach 4.2 mph before returning to your normal rate for five minutes and beginning the process again. Remember to cool down at your normal rate for five minutes.

In a way, this is a fitness game. By playing it, you stay motivated and inspired, and you don't get bored or complacent. Climbing these "hills" challenges you to pay attention and give it your all. It pushes you past the point where you'd normally push yourself, so it burns more calories per workout. As a consequence, you see a greater weight loss and achieve a higher fitness level.

And because you're more fit, you'll notice that when you do workouts other than Treading, they're easier than they were before; you've got greater strength and stamina.

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Take John Hickey, for example. He weighed 260 pounds--far too much for him--when he first went to see Ellen last year. She put him on a Treading program and varied the workouts, enabling him within a year to lose 60 pounds, which was much faster than he thought possible. Even better, he found himself in excellent shape--so excellent, in fact, that he participated in, and completed, his first marathon--last month's Boston Marathon. As you might imagine, he's pretty happy today. And he's not alone. Thirty other clients of Ellen's completed the full 26.2 miles, thanks in large part to Treading.

Treading can enable you to reach old goals and set new ones while also helping you to build confidence in yourself and your abilities. It also does something that I'd thought was impossible: It gets people to dust off their treadmills.

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Copyright 1999 by Kathy Smith

Kathy Smith's fitness column appears weekly in Health. Reader questions are welcome and can be sent to Kathy Smith, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. If your question is selected, you will receive a free copy of her book "Getting Better All the Time." Please include your name, address and a daytime phone number with your question.

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