”I can’t believe I’m skipping on a treadmill,” I marvel to celebrity trainer Anna Kaiser as she puts me through the paces of her workout, AKTread. The program launched at Kaiser’s studio in New York—a place that boldfaced names like Kelly Ripa and Shakira have been known to frequent. The innovative training session consists of shuffles, hops with a twist and hurdle-style leaps on the treadmill, plus strength-based exercises performed while using the machine for support (imagine doing push-ups with your hands on the frame and your feet on a stability ball).
At one point or another, most of us have probably dragged ourselves to the gym to “do 20 minutes on the treadmill” and plodded through the entire time with one eye on the clock and the other on Access Hollywood. A new class of treadmill-championing trainers is hoping to change that, by developing workouts to make us rethink the stalwart machine and push ourselves harder on it than we ever have before. The methods all involve interval training, or alternating between high-intensity exercise and periods of recovery, a technique that’s proven to torch fat.
The treadmill was once seen as a decent way to get a solitary workout, but new studios are using it in group classes—with the intention of making a spot on a treadmill as coveted as one on, say, a SoulCycle bike. Chicago’s Shred415 studio offers workouts with side shuffles, backwards runs and hill climbs on the treadmill, all done in dimmed lighting and, often, with a live DJ. “We felt that Chicago was oversaturated with yoga and Pilates and didn’t have that heart-pounding workout,” says co-owner Tracy Roemer, “and the atmosphere makes it fun.”
New York’s Mile High Run Club—a large, airy studio that opened in late fall—offers 38 treadmill-centered classes. “People have been on their own at the gym, logging their miles,” says Debora Warner, founder and creator. “Not having classes like these is a missed opportunity for runners. The sport becomes easier if you do interval training. You’ll get faster, stronger and be able to go longer.” Nationwide, Equinox gyms have developed a treadmill class called Precision Running, designed to give you a lung-swelling cardio workout that doesn’t wreak havoc on your hips, knees and ankles the way street jogs can.
And at Burn 60 in Los Angeles’ Brentwood neighborhood, the hour-long workout alternates between 10 minutes of sprints on Woodway treadmills and 10 minutes of grueling resistance training on the floor. “When you’re part of a bigger group, with a trainer motivating you and guiding you, you step it up,” says Rick Wenner, director of fitness operations. Barry’s Bootcamp is also known for this approach; celebrities like Kim Kardashian swear by it.
Some studios, like FitMix in L.A., are using the treadmill paired with another machine. FitMix offers a class it calls “The Mashup” where the workout switches between intervals on a treadmill and Pilates on a reformer. “We wanted to let people do their cardio and strength training in the same place,” says Diana Newton, co-owner. “Running is wildly efficient, and Pilates is a great complement to it. Running is high impact. Pilates is low impact.”
Back at AKTread, I’ve finished the workout and am way sweatier and more tired than I’d be after a normal run. I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to try it again, but Kaiser—ever chipper—encourages me. “The great thing about a treadmill,” she says, “is you can find one almost anywhere.”