Hamster Dance: Is a treadmill studio right for you?

Perhaps you’re in the far reaches of North America, and it’s already begun to snow, or the early morning cold and dark have you burrowed under the covers and hitting snooze on your alarm. Or perhaps you’re in Australia, where the scorching summer heat makes running intolerable at anything other than zero-dark-thirty.

Whatever the reason, many runners opt for the treadmill in inclement conditions. These days, there’s a growing crop of treadmill studios popping up in places like Boston, New York and California. Is a treadmill studio right for you?

Mango took a class at the Heartbreak Hill running studio in Cambridge, MA, and our very own Avocado teaches at MyStryde in downtown Boston! Together, we’ll help you figure out if and when a treadmill studio might be right for you.

Mango: I’ll admit that I was initially skeptical about treadmill classes. I’m decidedly beardy and old-school — I started running before gels or GPS watches were a thing, and have been known to run in 10-year-old race shirts and ratty split shorts. I view the treadmill as a purely functional tool, something you use for a specific purpose when you have no other choice. A treadmill class with disco lights and pounding music and an instructor yelling out what to do? That made me nervous. But hey, I had a trial-class discount and I’d resolved to try a few new things this year.

Avocado: When MyStryde first opened in Boston, it was the first studio of its kind in the city and only the second in the country. As a runner who had battled many a brutal Beantown winter, I was intrigued. I got involved and came on as a coach just before the studio opened 2 years ago. It’s proven to be a great resource for both casual class takers and serious runners. The classes operate on a 1-5 effort scale with varying interval ranges that change each class.  It’s up to the runner how much she gets out of the class. We get a very wide variety of clients from first-time runners to elite marathoners, but regardless of experience level, there’s something appealing about taking the thought out of speedwork and that’s a win in my book!

Mango: The class I took involved a warm-up, then variations of increased speed and incline, with a mix of hills, recovery running, and a little sprinting. Each treadmill had a little card with suggested paces for beginners. If you’re used to doing varied speed workouts on the treadmill, you’ll have no trouble adjusting the incline and speed on the go. I’m a set-it-and-forget-it person myself, so things got a little crazy as I tried to keep up with instructions and not fall off.

My weekday lunchtime class, taught by local elite runner Amanda Nurse, had about six people in it, which was pretty quiet, apparently. Weekend and evening classes can be packed! For me, a treadmill class is something I’ll probably do as an occasional treat as and when it fits into training, since I already do my structured workouts with a group. I’d definitely like to go again in my off-season, perhaps with a friend or two.

Avocado: The great part about the classes at MyStryde is that each coach writes their own workouts. We all come from varied running backgrounds, from former collegiate track athletes to sub-3 hour marathoners so everyone has a little something different to bring to the table. Depending on the focus of the class — speed, endurance or power — the workout structure changes slightly so runners can choose a class that best fits their training needs. Speed classes focus on short, intense repeats whereas endurance classes involve longer pushes that more mimic tempo work. Powerstryde classes add an element of strength, with half the class on the tread and half on the floor doing body weight, kettle bell and band work.

As coaches, we try to get to know our clients as much as possible to understand goals and recognize milestones. I think we have a duty to push our runners and the more we know about them, the better we can help them get to the next level.

Mango: If you’re sometimes the caboose of your running group, or if you can’t find anyone to run your pace with you, treadmill studio classes are great. Okay, technically you’d get the same effect if you went to the gym and commandeered several treadmills with your closest running friends, but I think other gym-goers might frown upon that! This way, everyone gets the workout that meets their needs, you enjoy the energy of running en masse, and no one gets dropped. (You have no idea how happy it makes me that no one gets dropped!)

I wouldn’t go to a studio class every single day though — I don’t think they’re really designed for that. Just as you wouldn’t do a speed workout on the track every day, I don’t think you need to do structured workouts every day, even if you can customize your pace and effort each time. It’s just too tempting to try and go harder than you should, with the coaches providing encouragement and the music revving you up.

Right now, I think most treadmill-studio customers are fairly experienced runners who are looking to spice things up. But as other intense-exercise fitness trends like Crossfit and Soulcycle have gained popularity, reports have cropped up of high-intensity-induced rhabdomyolysis and injuries due to overuse or improper technique. Can treadmill studios keep clients’ safety and sensible training as a priority?

Compared to a regular gym membership or running-group membership, they’re not that cheap either — treadmills take up space, and renting a large space comes at a premium. At Heartbreak Hill’s studio, a single class is $30, while a 12-class per month membership is $180, or $15 a class. (And I’ll admit that walking through the Heartbreak Hill store to get to the studio invites, um, some window-shopping.)

Also, one of the very things I love most about running is that I can go any time. I don’t have to sign up for a 5:45 a.m. or 6 p.m. class to do it. On the flip side, knowing a class awaits might motivate you to get out of bed in the morning or be more efficient at work to knock off early.

If you’re interested in treadmill studio classes, I’d suggest taking a few different trial classes, figuring out whether you like the ambiance and structure, and working out how they fit into your training, before shelling out for a membership.

Avocado: Mango is exactly right, these classes aren’t designed to be an every-day workout. I run MyStryde‘s race training program and when I build out training plans for my athletes, these classes get dropped in where you might ordinarily see a track workout or tempo run. It’s certainly a personal preference thing and I know that there are many runners who would much prefer to shovel their track lane and grind it out there. But for some runners, the idea that someone else is doing the thinking for you and keeping you mentally engaged for 45-60 minutes is appealing. That’s where this tool is hugely helpful.

Newbies are definitely the most fun because more often than not, they don’t know their potential as runners. We always go through our guide with them but encourage them to rely on feel and effort to guide them. We always make sure to lay out the workout in advance so we don’t have any over ambitious runners flying off the back of the tread in the first 30 second sprint!

We’ve seen countless PRs from newbies as well as from athletes we’ve coached and all credit goes to them for pushing their limits. I always like to remind my classes, “You’re doing the work, we’re just here to push you a little harder.”

At the end of the day, speedwork is speedwork and while it might not be traditional, it seems to have proven effective for many in the past 2 years. Plus a little music and energy can definitely be a welcome change from the blustery solitude of a snowy track!

Have you tried a treadmill class? Would you?

Tropical transplant to the chilly Northeast. Professional writer and researcher, cantankerous editor, mom to two! inquisitive children, asker of inconvenient questions.

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  1. Would definitely try a class like this. I know I’m in the minority, but I love the treadmill. Not all the time, of course; but being from MN (where it’s forecasted to be -20 on new year’s eve!) I love being able to wear a singlet and shorts and zone out with my headphones for some miles when it’s cold outside.

    I like the idea of having an instructor leading the workout and I think I would push myself more if I was in a group setting. Wish we had a studio like this in my rural neck of the woods!

    1. I love the treadmill too and I live in Texas!

      I’d definitely try a class if there was one near me. I hate how expensive those boutique fitness classes are though! $30/class is a ton.