How to Turn the Treadmill Into a Legitimate Strength and Conditioning Tool

Turn your treadmill into a sled and unlock it's full training potential.

After reading this article, you will never look at the treadmill the same way again.

That's because it's going to become your secret weapon to add strength, size and power, all while getting leaner. Don't worry, there are no long, slow cardio workouts involved. In fact, the treadmill workouts you'll be doing hence forth will have you sucking some serious wind.

The trick to making the treadmill really work for you?

Don't turn it on.

This turns the treadmill into what I call a "tread-sled," as it forces you to focus on ground force as you manually move the belt. If you have ever used a Prowler Sled or a drag sled, you know how powerful they can be. Sled training is great as it is easy, safe, quick and highly effective. There is no eccentric movement (lowering of the weight), so you won't get sore. And adding just a few minutes to your workout will give you serious results in just a few weeks.

I have been lifting for more than 20 years. I have tried a lot of ways to get bigger, stronger and more powerful, including Olympic lifting (I am a USAW coach), powerlifting, CAT, Triphasic training, plyometrics, 5/3/1, 20 rep schemes and more. Over the last few years, I have increasingly focused on sled training, and have found that it produces results unlike anything else I have tried. Right now, it's essentially all I am doing, and I am in the best shape of my life.

While building your own sled is quite simple, you can use the treadmill as an alternative. Keep in mind that different treadmills will provide vastly different resistance. I always look for the ones that are hardest to move the belts.

The tread-sled is actually a great warm-up. But the real effectiveness of this work is going to come as a finisher. You can also use it as conditioning work between workouts. Again, this type of work won't make you sore and can actually flush your muscles, so you can give short sessions a try between lifting sessions.

The Turned-Off Treadmill Warm-Up

Get on the treadmill, leave it turned off, and start walking.

  • Start with 30 seconds of walking,
  • Another 30 seconds of walking, now keeping the back heel down to get a good stretch
  • 30 seconds of lunge steps (you likely can't get a full lunge – see video)
  • 30 seconds of walking backward, holding the handles with arms at 90 degrees (see video)
  • 30 seconds going forward, increasing the pace to a sprint to finish, arms bent into a half-press position.

Keeping the arms bent engages the upper body and gives a warm-up there, as well. This is just a 2.5-minute warm-up, but you should feel nice and warm and ready to go.

The Turned-Off Treadmill Finisher

The goal is to be able to do a Tabata-style interval (20 seconds of intense effort followed by 10 seconds of rest), though you can experiment until you find the work/rest interval that works best for you. The goal is to perform two rounds of this circuit.

  • Start with the lateral walk (see video). Most people don't include lateral movement, and it can be very hard to load it, so this is a great way to do it. Perform 20 seconds facing left, take a 10 second rest, then 20 seconds facing right, then a 10 second rest.
  • Next, utilize a backwards walk. Push hard and get full extension in the knee. You should really feel this in the quads and this is a great way to hit the VMO or even rehab sore or injured knees. Perform 20 seconds of intense effort followed by 10 seconds of rest.
  • Next is the leg drive (see video). Here, you're using your feet to pull the belt forward as you drive your knees up. This will be slow, and you really need to focus on keeping the hips low and really pulling through. This hits the hip flexors, which can be very hard to target with traditional strength training. It also forces you to maintain dorsiflexion (keeping your toes pulled toward your knees), which is a key mechanic for sprinting. And you will definitely feel it in your abs. Perform for 20 seconds of intense effort followed by 10 seconds of rest.

That is one round of two minutes. Two rounds of four minutes makes a full Tabata. Once you complete this circuit, you can move onto the second Tabata. This is the one that's really going to hurt and be the difference maker. It is likely that you won't get through the entire four minutes right off the bat. Aim for two minutes and build from there.

  • Start with the backwards run—20 seconds of all out effort followed by 10 seconds of rest.
  • Next, forward sprint (see video)—20 seconds of all out effort followed by 10 seconds of rest.
  • Alternate between backwards run and forward sprints for as many rounds as you can. That's it. If you stick with it and truly give max effort, you will see a huge difference in your strength, size and power. And you will burn fat like a madman.

The Turned-Off Treadmill Conditioning Circuit

You can use this turned-off treadmill circuit to add some frequency and volume to your training, and it is way better than traditional forms of cardio.

  • Pace yourself and go for 6-10 minutes, alternating 1 minute of forward walking and 1 minute of backwards walking.
  • You can add in the lateral walks to mix things up and give yourself a "break" as needed.
  • You can even do just these moves for a de-load week and it is also great for PAP (post-activation potentiation).

The Turned-Off Treadmill Ultimate Challenge

If you are a real animal, you can try this challenge that will put your legs and lungs to a true test.

  • A 6-second full sprint every 30 seconds. The ultimate goal is to reach five minutes (which would constitute 10 sprints), but if you can't reach that, go for as long as you can.
  • The catch is that you must fully exhale and then hold your breath for each sprint.
  • If you feel at all lightheaded, stop the challenge. You do not want to pass out on the treadmill.

You can, of course, do all of this with a sled as well, which is highly encouraged. But until you get your own sled, this is a great alternative and will make you look at the treadmill in a whole new light.

Photo Credit: Jovanmandic/iStock