Runners are, shall we say, opinionated about treadmills. Ask any runner, from marathoner to gym rat, and they’ll tell you they either love ‘em or hate ‘em. (There are certainly plenty of Salty opinions here.) Now, these once maligned machines are enjoying a moment in the sun. Owing to the overwhelming popularity of group fitness classes like spinning, boot camp, and barre variety, runners are now getting their own boutique experience.
Goodbye, Bikram. Pull over, SoulCycle. Are treadmill studios the next big thing in fitness classes?
There are a growing number of places in New York City that have begun offering group treadmill classes as part of trendy gym memberships or stand alone studios. (You can read ABC’s take here and the New York Times’ here.)
Personally, I’ve recently come to appreciate treadmills because living in New York City means that any time I want to head out for a run that takes requires concentration and glances at my watch, I’m afraid I’ll run into a small child, an errant soccer ball, or a dog (if not some dog poop). Treadmills take out that environmental strain.
Tired of environmental strain as our sloppy winter dragged on, I decided to give one of these locations a try – Mile High Run Club in downtown Manhattan. A single class will set you back $34, so I wanted to see if it delivered a high-quality workout or simply serves as another place where fit, trendy New Yorkers go in their chic spandex.
Opened in November, Mile High Run Club is the first exclusively treadmill studio in the city. It boasts a roster of elite runners as their coaches, $10,000 treadmills, three lengths of classes (45-, 60-, and 90-minutes), and according to their website, “expertly structured intervals and smart purposeful training” where “everyone trains like an athlete regardless of fitness level.”
The name “studio” suggests that Mile High Run Club is more of a space dedicated to a specific practice and less of a gym atmosphere. The white walls, neon lights, and a board where you can jot your running inspiration in dry erase markers make it feel more like a hip club where you will inevitably break out a sweat to the beats. I was more than a little skeptical at first since the few times I have been to SoulCycle classes, I had to wear the earplugs they provided at the front desk because the soundtrack actually hurt my ears. Not an inspiring way to workout.
Once in the actual studio room with the 36 Woodway 4Front treadmills (a.k.a. state-of-the art pieces of running engineering that would make Jasmine swoon), the changing overhead lights and pulsing music definitely add to the club feel. But don’t worry, the music is kept at an appropriately energizing level with no damage to your eardrums. And once you’re done running your sprints and your hill intervals, you can grab your things out of the keyless lockers and grab a shower in their spa-like locker rooms complete with flowery soaps, lotions, and even q-tips and minty Lifesavers in little glass jars. Perfect to wash away sweat and skepticism.
Here’s the lowdown on the classes themselves: The 45-minute class incorporates a few mixes speed and hill repeats and then throws some kettlebell exercises in there for strength training. This is billed as their “beginner” class, even though more advanced runners can dial up their treadmills to hit a higher max speed. Despite the instructions to listen to your own body and push yourself based on your own fitness level, this class went by too quickly for me once you factor in all the dynamic stretching and weights. Great concept, though.
The longer class is 60-minutes of straight running. On the day I went, class consisted of a short warm-up, an increasing progression of hill intervals, and a descending pyramid of flat intervals with increasing speed. This class showed off the versatility of the treadmill as a training tool, and the longer intervals, I think, would really help build both strength and fast twitch muscles. Maybe another day I’ll try their longest 90-minute class.
My biggest criticism is that while the obviously skilled instructors are there watching the clock and anticipating your next move for you, they offer no personalized feedback as they wandered among the treadmills. In yoga classes, you can expect to have the teacher come realign you. And for all the talk about how important running form is for performance and injury prevention, there was little attempt to see the forms that were running on the machines as people.
Basically, I see these classes as a series of trade-offs:
- Sure, the cost is steep at $34 a pop, but now I can take the workouts back to my $19.95/month gym or out on to the roads for free.
- Sure, the thing that all runners have over other athletes is autonomy. Since we can go out on our own, we can run anytime, anywhere and be in charge of our own workout. But that also means we have to be in charge of planning and coaching ourselves at every step. A treadmill class can take some of that mental burden off and let you focus on pushing yourself a little faster or concentrating on your form.
- Similarly, running alone all the time can be lonely. Group runs, and now group classes such as these, can be a way to promote community out of athletes who value their independence.
- And sure, there’s a lack of personalized instruction, but perhaps at least all of the general guidelines will help people, especially beginners, be safer, more conscious runners.
- Finally, running is hard work. A studio or class that provides an atmosphere of luxury can help you recover, at least mentally.
Whether you shun treadmills or embrace them, these classes definitely hold some value for every runner. I’d also say that they fulfill that old adage that “you get out of it what you put into it,” meaning you have to bring an intensity so that the burn in your legs overpowers the burn in your wallet from shelling out for a class or membership. But I’d go back for when I want to shake up my routine or for when I’m just plain tired of dodging the dog poop in the parks.
What’s your call? Are treadmill classes a flash in the pan, or are they here for the long run?