Treadmill Tip of the Week: Gym Time Limits (Ew!)

With our tips and tricks running nowhere will get you everywhere.  (Photo credit: maHidoodi)

Hi! It’s Salty here. Before we get to Cilantro’s post, I wanted to let you know about this awesome new winter feature. We know many of you turn to the treadmill when the roads get slick, the night comes early (and seemingly never leaves), you have rug rats napping during your run time or because you’re just as pressed for time as always.  To make those ‘mill runs more tready and less dready, we’re going to bring you tips each week. We’ll bring you specific workouts to do, etiquette tips for gym treadmills, entertainment suggestions and more! If you have any questions or treadmill topic ideas, send them here!

You’re going to make it through this winter in shape, after all!


As the temperature drops… and drops… my motivation and ability to run outside follows suit.  And when the snow started falling on Saturday and the high temperature hit 23 degrees, I realized that I was going to have to take my training inside for the next five months. I’m training for my first 50-miler in March and then what will hopefully turn into my first BQ marathon in May so this means that I’m going to be logging many miles inside my university fitness center.

Or am I?

You see, my gym has a 40 minute maximum for all cardio machines.  They take this rule seriously, as each equipment is programmed so it won’t even run for longer than 40 minutes!  I’ve been a member at gyms, albeit briefly, where the limit is even shorter!  How am I supposed to get in a 20-miler with a 40 minute time limit? I know where the cardio time limit comes from, at least at my gym.  On every wall is a poster that talks about the benefits of 150 minutes of exercise weekly – that’s 30 minutes, five days a week (or one long run, in my training program).   There are also posts about how cardio’s benefits maximize with 30 minutes of use, five days a week (awkward).  In addition, I know they are trying to ensure that there are enough machines open so that everyone who wants to come to the wellness center has access to a machine.  If every single person in the gym was spending a couple of hours on it (e.g. me), then it’d be tough to get your cardio in.

Gym Cardio Theatre Category:Gyms_and_Health_Clubs
We usually have a dozen empty treadmills (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But you see, everyone at my university isn’t at the gym at the same time.  In fact, I’d argue that most people at my university haven’t stepped foot in the gym, let alone contemplated spending 40 minutes on a treadmill.  I believe the locals probably call that “crazy”.  They don’t understand my problems.  You do, I hope.I have yet to be at the gym when every cardio machine or even every treadmill was in use – or close. Does a gym treadmill time limit apply when there are open treadmills?

NO! The time limit is not there to limit you to 40 minutes of running; it’s there to ensure your crazy long run doesn’t prevent someone else who wants to use a treadmill from using a treadmill. If there are people waiting, then sorry, sister, you have to de-treadmill and sulk on the elliptical.

Actually, if you really do need to get off the treadmill because there are people waiting, you have a few options (besides sulking on the elliptical):

Is this guy supposed to be running?  (Photo credits:

1. Stay on the treadmill anyway. No, I don’t mean protest. I mean keep running and hope that someone else hops off first, to open up a treader for someone waiting. Note: my guilt is never severe enough to interrupt a workout.  Selfish?  Absolutely.  I’m not sorry. In all seriousness, most other people are there just to exercise rather than as part of their athletic training.

2. Do a circuit, instead of a continuous run. If the guilt does get to you, if no one else gets off, or the monitor kicks you off because you’ve been on the longest, you could transition your run into a circuit instead.  That could look like 40 minutes running, 5 minutes weights (or however long it takes for another treadmill to open up), 40 minutes running, ~5 minutes weights – repeat this until your workout is completed.  Although it is annoying to jump on and off the treadmills, this workout could actually increase your overall fitness too, in the way that circuit and interval training is designed to do.

3. Speed work! Cram in as many miles as you can within the time limit.  Finally, turn your workout into a speed or tempo run.  You can fit in a lot of miles if you are running faster – and you’ll be working so hard, you’ll be glad the workout can only last 40 minutes.

No matter how I do it, I’ll be fitting in many of my runs indoors until April at the earliest.  I’ll have to work around these frustrating time maximums every day I don’t make it like frosty and run outside.

What do you think about gym-enforced cardio time limits?  Do you stick to them? What have you done when you’ve been bumped off the ‘mill?

Ultrarunner, yoga teacher, academic, and feminist. I write about ultrarunning, feminism, and the intersection of running and life.

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  1. Cilantro,

    Have you ever tried running outside in the snow with Yak-Traks? Or Ice Spikes?

    Last winter, when the roads here in Indianapolis got snowed over, I reluctantly decided to hit the YMCA treadmill. I much prefer to run in a state park near where I live. But how long would I have to wait until the snow melted?

    So, I did the treadmill thing for a few weeks. And, um, yes, I didn’t exactly stick with those time limits you described. But there were plenty of open treadmills, so I don’t feel guilty about it.

    But then I decided to just give my Yak-Traks a try. I figured that if I didn’t feel like I was getting decent traction, I would just go back to the YMCA for another treadmill run. I was surprised to find out that the Yak-Traks worked well. Not for speed work, but for LSD. Some friends of mine recommended Ice Spikes, so I purchased a pair. But the Ice Spikes take a bit of work to install into your shoes and I have not tried them yet.

    1. I actually have a pair of Yak-Traks – but it’s not the snow/ice, it’s the cold! No matter how many layers I put on, the sub-zero temps combined with the wind freezes me out! No fear though, I plan to keep trying. The treadmill gets old fast!

      1. Did you say sub-zero? Not just sub-freezing? Well, now I understand why the treadmill seems like a viable option. The coldest temp I think I have ever run in was something like 15 degree F. I guess that’s one of the benefits of living in the sunny south (a.k.a. Indianapolis).

        1. I’m a wimp too though – I’d run in my down jacket if I could! I know I need to log some miles outside – it’s important for monotony and preventing injury!

  2. I don’t run on treadmills often, but if you know you have to get in a certain number of miles, try going at non-peak hours. There will be less people and you probably wont’ feel like you ‘have’ to get off at the time limit!

  3. I run on the YMCA treadmills a lot and fortunately they do not have time limits, although some are programmed to power down at 60 minutes and on those I just restart until I’m done.

    When I used to run at a gym with a time limit – at a university too, hmmm – there were monitors that enforced the rule. Sometimes if I really needed to get in a run over the time limit I’d restart after a period of my run to reset the timer so when the monitors came around it would look like I still had x minutes. I know, I know! But it worked 😉

    1. A treadmill monitor? Sounds like the worst college job ever!

      I like to cover up the “time elapsed” part of the treadmill… although we don’t have monitors, I still don’t want to give anyone the impression I’ll be hopping off anytime soon. Horrible. I know. =)

    2. I go to a 24 hour gym, where, even on its most crowded day (the most I have ever seen using the gym at the same time were 10 people or less), most of the bank of treadmills are not being used. If I couldn’t get on a treadmill, I would then opt for the stationary bike. My favorite time to hit the gym is around 4am in the morning—it’s empty and it gets my blood pumping for a long day at work.

  4. I rarely use treadmills and have never ran over an hour on one, so I’ve never had that problem. I am thinking of joining a gym soon for winter training. Hope they don’t strictly enforce time limits!

    1. Not all gyms do! I was a member of Lifetime in Utah, and I spent hours on them – but then again, I think they had more treadmills than could have every been used at once!

    2. Look for an Anytime’s open 24/7, highly secure, onsite trainers during daytime hours who are more than willing to assist. They have top of the line machines and the treadmills are not monitored.

  5. Limit is only 30 minutes at my gym “when others are waiting.” If no one is waiting I can stay on longer. I know the times I can go when I won’t be bumped off. I basically avoid the morning rush and I’m ok. I’m fortunate in that I work part-time with a varying schedule so I can work my runs around this schedule. I’ve occasionally run up to three hours on the treadmill on a Sunday afternoon, but normally I’ll do 1-1.5 hours. (There’s another gym I sometimes go to where the 30-minute limits are more strict, and it’s almost impossible to do longer runs.)

    That said, I live in a climate where I can run outdoors most of the year. We get very little snow, although it is often cold and wet and I just have to dress for it. If I lived in a less forgiving climate, I might want to buy my own treadmill– but I can’t justify it.

  6. Kahtoola microspikes are also great for running outdoors on snow or ice covered roads/sidewalks/trails for LSD. They are more sturdy than yaktraks and very easy to attach to your sneakers. I wear them with some gators and can avoid the ‘mill on most winter days.

    1. I’ll check those out too. I’m hoping that the longer I live here the more I’ll get used to the cold – it’s worse than the slipping and sliding through the snow and ice!

      1. yeah, I think it’s definitely what you’re used to. where did you move from? when I lived in Minnesota and Pennsylvania, I think I ditched an outside winter run in favor of indoor exercise probably less than 10 times in several years of running (but then again I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY hate treadmills). now that I’m in Oklahoma I’m actually pretty likely to head inside during those 100 degree summer days! YUCK!!!

  7. I hate those stupid cardio limits. I understand why they are there but that definitely doesn’t mean I have to like them. When I lived in Illinois for school, with a similar problem, I actually rearranged my class and work schedule so I could run in the middle of the day. I also used Yak Traks a lot.

    1. That’s a great idea – I’m finding that 9 -11 am is when the gym is the most empty. Weird, as that was the opposite from my non-university gym, but perfect with my schedule!

  8. In the past I belonged to gyms that were packed during peak hours. We even had sign-ups for the specific treadmills at one. Someone going over time during peak hours definitely got the dirty looks from me! If I wanted to do over 30 minutes (since that includes warm-up and cool-down), I had to sign up for a second machine and sometimes wait.
    But if no one is in there, I see no reason you can’t just let it power down then restart fresh. Yes, it’s a pain, but it’s also free and convenient! And if some monitor gives you a hassle, just get the one next to you started and jump on board! LOL.

    1. I would totally give the stink eye to someone on a treadmill for too long if there wasn’t another available – I guess I have quite the double standard! Luckily it hasn’t happened yet!

  9. I joined my gym on the premise that they DONT have time limits on machines… I even asked, “So Im planning on running 15- 20 miles on the treadmill a few weekends a month during the winter, and I wont get asked to get off”. They looked at me like I was crazy, but such is life when training for an ultra 🙂

    The gym staff now know me as the girl who spends a good 2.5- 3 hours on the treadmill now and offer to get me more water. Dont feel guilty about commandeering a treadmill and using it. It does sound selfish, but it irks me when people get on the treadmill to just walk slowly and talk on their phones.

    Good luck training for your first 50!

  10. When there is someone waiting I don’t think it’s okay to keep going. “In all seriousness, most other people are there just to exercise rather than as part of their athletic training.” This line really got me going. Everyone at the gym is trying to do something for their health, their ability to reach their goals, their recreation. Just because my goals are by some measures more ambitious doesn’t mean I get to decide they’re more important. I often have to wait for muscly tough guys to let me work in on the weight machines and it drives me nuts. They’re acting as if my time is less valuable just because I’m obviously not going to lift the kind of weights they are. I don’t think your example is any different.

    1. I know where you’re coming from with this and I don’t think anyone here is saying don’t get off the treadmill if someone is waiting. If the gym is packed and there’s a time limit I’d suspect everyone here would realize it’s not the time to run 3 hours at the gym. The talk here was more in the circumstance where there is a moment or two along a run when there is one or two people waiting but many other people on machines. Waiting a minute to see if someone else is done before jumping off isn’t such a big deal. I don’t think acknowledging the fact that most people are not training for an athletic event at the gym is disrespectful of people that “just exercise” and it doesn’t mean I think that those people are lesser at all. It’s just that most people aren’t going to use the treadmill as long as someone who’s training. I don’t think anyone should prevent someone from exercising even if they are technically training for an athletic event and the other person is “just exercising” and in most cases it wouldn’t come close to that scenario. I appreciate you challenging me to clarify 🙂

  11. I forgot about this rule! I haven’t been at a gym with a limit in quite some time, and my current gym has so many friggin treadmills I would literally crap my pants if they were all taken. There has to be 70+. I have never been a big treadmill runner, and I certainly wasn’t a distance queen back in the day when I went to a gym with a limit, but I will say it was maddening to get to the gym after work and have all of the cardio equipment booked. So in that respect, I can totally understand the need for a limit. However……30 minutes seems quite short. And now that I do distance….if it were me needing to get a 15+ miler in….I’d ignore the rule completely and just run. =) But I’m selfish. Hahaha.

  12. I know this is an old post but it popped up with the NYR posts. Our university gym has a 20 minute time limit!! However, there are a few treadmills that someone reprogrammed back to 60. And they got new life fitness treadmills that are limited to 20 minutes unless you pick marathon mode as your workout and then it is unlimited.

    And I agree with Salty – most people stay on the treadmill for 20 minutes top so even if someone is waiting for two minutes another one opens up. And we also have treadmill monitors but you can hide your time and distance if necessary.

  13. Back at school when I started out on this running this fifteen years ago, I use to go to the gym when it opened at 8am on Saturday, claim a Woodway, and line up water bottles on side boards. This was before Netflix and showing up with your own movies. I remember watching the Columbia shuttle news coverage for three hours from the treadmill on February 1, 2003. Ugh. Anyway, when my friends at Miami told me that they had to sign up for a slot on equipment at their gym and there was a time limit, I throught that was crazy.

    If you want to make sure you get a piece of equipment, get your ass out of bed earlier so that you can beat everyone else and be the girl hogging the treadmill on Saturday Morning.

    Google it. There are instructions on the internet for reprogramming the time limits on machines.