How To Avoid Buying A Treadmill This Christmas

Okay, an admission: I started writing this article November 14, 2008. And I just can't do it. I spent 3 years selling treadmills (and I was pretty good at it, I guess) but I no longer believe they're a solution. In fact, it's easy for them to become part of the problem.

The first few paragraphs below are from the original draft. They're true. But after that, it's all new. The text is shot from the hip, but the sentiment is straight from the heart.

Christmas is coming. Most people enter the Holiday season feeling less than great about themselves; lots of food, dumpy weather, and the shorter days have many depressed about how they look and feel. They KNOW they have to lose weight, or at least start eating better. I'd prefer they exercise.

If they choose the exercise option (hooray!) most people give themselves 3 choices:

1. Join a gym

2. Start walking, or plan to do something

3. Buy a treadmill

Now, we know that for exercise to be effective, you have to stick to it. And we know that, for you to stick to an exercise program (assuming you don't have some abnormal disorder,) the program has to be novel, challenging, fun, community-based, and allow for nonlinear progression (you can't just focus on the scale or some other subjective measurement.) To really work, the plan has to carry some sort of personal risk – financial is okay, but fear of letting oneself down is more important. This is why we do monthly challenges….but I digress.

Joining a gym is the best option, especially if the gym you're joining actually CARES about your progress, but I concede that it can be intimidating for people. Frankly, the absolute best option is to visit a good Trainer, and let them lay out the options for you.

(To visit and chat with the best, without spending any money or committing to anything, click here.)

Which of the three provides novelty? Which provides challenge? Which is fun? Which has a built-in community? Which provides nonlinear progression (more on that in a minute)? Which carries any risk?

Most treadmills end up as yard sale fodder. There, I said it. By March, they look like this:


…drying clothes!

Novelty: while most treadmills now feature "programs" as a price point, the novelty of blinking lights and auto-adjusting elevation wears off in about…………now. Doing a walking program called "Pike's Peak" in your living room isn't like really going to Pike's Peak in Utah. It's like, well, standing around in your living room, a space built for relaxing, not exercising. Bedroom? Worse.

Challenge: it's walking. Walking is locomotion, not exercise. Yes, some people will run on a treadmill, but without an ultimate goal (5k, 10k, marathon) where you actually have a chance at failing, it's nearly impossible to make yourself walk on a treadmill for its own sake. And yes, some folks go to gyms just to walk on treadmills (not this gym) – but they're out of the house. They're really paying for the environment.

Fun: you can put in a DVD. You can link up to the internet. But as long as you have to distract yourself from exercise to keep exercising, you'll soon be distracted by other things instead. Above: the only fun you can have on a treadmill.

Community-based: treadmill walking is the fitness equivalent of writing a manifesto, alone, in your mother's basement, at midnight, in a stained t-shirt. It encourages brooding. You fixate. Your focal point narrows until little problems polish themselves into hard little pearls. You don't solve any problems on a treadmill. Got a problem with a coworker? Ask them to deadlift with you. You'll both feel better.

Nonlinear progression: you'll go farther if you can shift your focus for awhile. Stuck on a weight-loss plateau? Focus on gaining strength for a few weeks. Not getting any faster? Try improving technique on the rower. Strength not improving? Work on your sprints. A change is as good as a rest.

There are a hundred websites out there to tell you how to buy a treadmill. But consider: are you buying progress, or just forcing yourself to hold a yard sale in June?